January 3 or 6, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 (see 11)
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
When I first began my studies at Epiphany High School at the age of fourteen, I hadn’t really given much thought to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6. After all, it fell on a weekday in most years, and people I knew were by January 6 moving on with their regular lives following Christmas and New Year’s Day. I had no idea, of course, that Epiphany is one of the most important feasts of the entire year among Eastern Christians, and that el Día de los Reyes Magos on January 6 is a major festival throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
The renewal of worship in both Catholic and Protestant churches over the past half-century, however, has helped to bring this feast back into prominence in the U.S. and Canada. Many congregations observe the Epiphany on the first Sunday after January 1 because of its importance. The Roman Catholic calendar treats the Epiphany as an integral part of the Christmas season, while churches using the Revised Common Lectionary mark it as a turning point that concludes the Christmas season and begins a new season extending to the beginning of Lent.
Regardless of the day on which it is observed or how it fits into the calendar, today’s feast and the Sundays that follow celebrate God’s epiphania, which in Greek means “manifestation” or “appearance.” In the story we read today from the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12), we hear how the birth of the Messiah was revealed to “wise men”—astrologers from a distant Eastern land, probably Persia (present-day Iran).
The Gospel writer proclaims to a largely Jewish Christian audience the good news that God’s salvation is being made known beyond the limits of blood and nation to embrace people everywhere. This same message is stated explicitly in today’s Epistle reading, that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6). In Christ the God of Israel has been made known to all, fulfilling the promise to draw together people of every race, nation, and language, excluding no one.
Today’s Gospel story also suggests that God invites us, like the magi, to open our eyes to the ways in which the divine is manifested among us and to respond in faith. The wise men are scholars and searchers who receive the impetus to seek the child through their study of astrology. They are learners who because of their openness to truth received a glimpse of God’s revelation, while the scholars whom Herod consulted in Jerusalem were unable to get past their preconceived notions. The magi are travelers who responded in faith to follow the light of the star. Like Joseph, who experienced several visions in his sleep, they are dreamers who were willing to change their plans in response to God. Above all, they are believers who “knelt down and paid him homage” and “offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (2:11).
Surely God continues to be revealed among us today. Are we open to seeing the light that shines among us, to behold the everyday epiphanies in our lives? Are we willing to dream God’s dream, following the star, setting out on the journey of discipleship, and placing our gifts at the service of the One who welcomes all into the one body? Will others see in us the manifestation of God’s love for all that knows no limit?
Can we let the light shine in and through us? “Arise, shine; your light has come” (Is 60:1).
A Hymn for Today: “De tierra lejana venimos / From a Distant Home”
The feast of the Epiphany is celebrated as el Día de los Reyes Magos throughout the Spanish-speaking world on January 6. It is a day for gift giving, following the example of the wise men who presented gifts to the Christ Child. This traditional carol from Puerto Rico expresses the magi’s response of faith as they followed the star and sought the child. The second, third, and fourth stanzas give singers an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the gifts that the wise men offered in much the same way as the well-known carol by American John H. Hopkins, Jr., “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”
De tierra lejana venimos a verte,
nos sirve de guía la Estrella de Oriente.
Oh brillante Estrella que anuncia la aurora,
no nos falte nunca tu luz bienhechora.
Gloria en las alturas al Hijo de Dios,
gloria en las alturas y en la tierra amor.
Al recién nacido, que es Rey de los reyes,
oro le regalo para ornar sus sienes. Estribillo
Como es Dios el niño, le regalo incienso,
perfume con alma que sube hasta el cielo. Estribillo
Al niño del cielo que bajó a la tierra,
le regalo mirra que inspira tristeza. Estribillo
From a distant home the Savior we come seeking,
Using as our guide the star, so brightly beaming.
Lovely eastern star that tells us of God’s morning,
Heaven’s wondrous light, O never cease thy shining!
Glory in the highest to the Son of heaven,
And upon the earth be peace and love to all.
Glowing gold I bring the newborn babe so holy,
Token of his pow’r to reign above in glory. Refrain
Frankincense I bring the child of God’s own choosing,
Token of our prayers to heaven ever rising. Refrain
Bitter myrrh have I to give the infant Jesus,
Token of the pain that he will bear to save us. Refrain
Text: Puerto Rican carol; tr. by George K. Evans (1917-2009) and Walter Ehret (1918-2009), © 1963, 1980, Walter Ehret and George K. Evans, admin. by Walton Music Corp., a division of GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission.
Tune: ISLA DEL ENCANTO, Puerto Rican carol
Image Credit: Awake, My Soul, Mike Moyers, 2011
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.