Drawing Back The Veil
In his homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year A, Father Hanly examines the mysteries revealed when God draws back the veil in the Epiphany.
Readings for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year A
- First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
- Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
- Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
Christmas offers us two of the finest readings, probably, that are in all the New Testament. The first one is the story of St Luke of the birth of the Messiah, and we all know because we all come and surround the crib each year and we see what a wonderful scene it is. The second gospel is the one we just read to you. It’s the gospel for the Epiphany, the three wise men coming to Bethlehem and bringing with them their gifts and paying homage to the Christ child.
It’s hard to comprehend but, at one time in the church, there were only two holy days of obligation, very special in the eyes of all the people. One of course was Easter, the Resurrection, and the other was not Christmas, the other was the feast that we celebrate today: the Feast of the Epiphany.
Why, you might ask. Well, because if you look at the crib and you see the birth of Jesus, he is surrounded by shepherds and his mother and St Joseph, and every character, even the angels probably, but every character in this scene is the welcoming of the Jewish Messiah. And it is today that all the gentiles of the world understand that Jesus came, not just for the people of Israel, but for the people everywhere. He was to be the Messiah, not only for a small group of people who held on to the hope of the Messiah for centuries and centuries, but he had come for us all.
And therefore the Epiphany is, rightly so to us who are gentiles, perhaps the happiest of days, because we have an opportunity to rejoice in the fact, not only that the Saviour, the child, is born, but especially because he is truly born to us, as the hymn goes.
Epiphany means manifestation. It’s a Greek word and it literally means to draw back the veil. And whenever you hear of epiphanies in the Gospel, it means that God is drawing back the veil that covers a great mystery and all of us peer in to this mystery, able to understand much more about who God is and who we are.
And what did they see, these three kings or these three magi? What did they see when the veil of God was drawn back?
What they saw was, as Matthew says, they saw the child with Mary, his mother. And they fell on their knees and they worshiped him.
And then from their treasures, they offered him gold, a sign and symbol of kingship; and frankincense, the sign and symbol of the presence of God Himself, seen in the perfumed smoke of prayer rising up to heaven; and the final gift was the perfumed oil which was to be used for his burial, and this of course was the sign of his sacrifice, that he would offer up his life in suffering and great pain but for the redemption of the whole world.
And then the three magi rejoice and very quickly, Matthew says, they went home by another way, for they too knew that Herod planned to destroy the child and they did not return to Jerusalem to tell him of where the child could be found.
The main thing to remember today is that for Christians it’s very easy for us to understand when the veil was lifted and what the Magi saw and what happened to them, for we too are on a long journey and we take it for granted that the sign and symbol of our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with God, the sign and symbol is that we are on a journey together.
We are a pilgrim church. We’re going after, we have been called to follow a star, and our star is the faith that we have been given in baptism.
And we follow the star. And then, this Christmas we also found, once again, when the veil was drawn back, we found the child with Mary, his mother. And we, too, in our songs and in our prayers, rejoice as the kings rejoiced, and we, too, come and adore him, Christ our Lord. And we fall on our knees, as they fell on their knees, to hear the angel voices proclaiming the coming of the Lord into our present world and into our hearts this morning.
We must remember the coming of Jesus is not a one-time-only thing in history. He comes each morning to call us to continue our journey with him, following where he, our star, leads us, by his faith and our faith, going to where he takes us, in and out of the byways of our lives, but ultimately leading us safely home.
This is very important to understand. It’s not three strange kings or magi coming to a strange place. It is the veil torn back and we realise the great truth that we journey with God when we journey with Jesus.
Did you ever wonder why the wise men never returned? There’s no record that they ever came back to Bethlehem or went back to Jerusalem or visited Jesus and Mary later on in life. There is no record of it. They just came, and for that one brief time, offering their gifts, and then they were not heard of anymore.
Why did they not return to Jerusalem? Why did they not return to Bethlehem? Why didn’t they make it a pilgrimage to constantly visit the places that had become holy as Jesus himself died, rose again, and the church began to take root in all that area of history. Why?
Because they knew when they came and worshipped him, they knew that the child was more than a child and Mary had carried God Himself to be born in that stable and that God had come to stay.
And the wise men knew that wherever they went, they carried the child and Mary with them, no matter how separated, how far, in one area, out of another, through wars, through trials, through joys, through happiness, the one thing that when they came to Bethlehem they learned was, Jesus did not stay in Bethlehem, Mary did not stay in Bethlehem, but they take up their lives in those who reach out to them in love and faith.
And so, when we come each year to see the crib scene, we are reassured that we too, for the rest of our lives, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, and death will not part us from the fact that through life we, too, like Mary, carry Jesus with us and that the two are not separated.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Mother of God, she who carried God Himself in her womb and brought him forth in Bethlehem. And he was brought forth to live with us and to stay with us, to lead us, to care for us, to forgive us, to make sure that we understand the true nature of what we are.
For we, like Mary, are the Christ bearers of Jesus, the Saviour, giving him to everyone that we are with and meet as we walk the long road with him, eventually into eternal Bethlehem.