A Light to the Whole World

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord. Although the traditional day for the celebration is January 6, the celebration is now often moved to the Sunday closest to the day, which is today.

Although I grew up going to Catholic school, and therefore knew that the Epiphany (capital E) had to do with the coming of the Magi, I don’t think I ever had any idea of what the word epiphany (small e) meant when I was in grade school. As I observed once before, the first time the word had any significance to me was when I read James Joyce’ Dubliners in high school, and learned of his use of the term to refer to a sudden flash of insight or perception. (I still remember spending lots of time in English class talking about the epiphanies of various characters in Joyce’s writings.)

The word “epiphany” comes from a Greek term meaning manifestation or appearance and in Christian terms refers to the revelation of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. St. Gregory the Great spoke of creation responding to the Incarnation: “When the king of heaven was born, the heavens knew that he was God because they immediately sent forth a star; the sea knew him because it allowed him to walk upon it; the earth knew him because it trembled when he died; the sun knew him because it hid the rays of its light.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the feast of the Epiphany the feast “which celebrates the manifestation to the world of the newborn Christ as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of the world.” The heavens revealed Jesus to the world by sending forth a star. The Wise Men, the first Gentiles to acknowledge Christ’s kingship, revealed Jesus to a world beyond Bethleham.

But, as with so much else, we miss the real point if we just think of this as a remembrance of an event that happened a long time ago. The implication of saying that the light of Christ is a light to the whole world is that it is our task today is to reveal Jesus to the world. In the words of one of the blessings we receive at the end of Mass on this day,

Because you are followers of Christ,
who appeared on this day as a light shining in darkness,
may he make you a light to all your sisters and brothers.