In places where the Solemnity of the Epiphany has been moved from 6 January to the Sunday between 2 and 8 January (both days inclusive), the readings are quite different from those that celebrate it as originally set. Meanwhile, three parishes in the archdiocese of Goa celebrate the feast on the traditional day: the church of Reis Magos (The Magi), in Verem, Tiswadi; the chapel of Our Lady of Remédios (Cures) in Cuelim, Mormugão; and the church of Our Lady of Bethlehem, in Chandor, Salcete; where little boys play the Wise Men who followed a wondrous star to Bethlehem and paid homage to the Infant King.

The Epiphany (from the Greek ‘manifestation’) is a very ancient feast that predates the celebration of Christmas on 25 December. It was central to Christian life: whereas Jesus was born unsung, it was His manifestation to the Magi that illuminated the mystery of Christmas. The early Church combined that Visitation with the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the Wedding at Cana, as all those events pointed to Jesus as being the Son of God. Only centuries later, at the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set Christmas day on 25 December, the Epiphany on 6 January,[1] and named the twelve days between the two feasts as the Christmastide, with the latter solemnity marking the grand finale.

The day’s readings highlight an incomparably sublime event in the history of humankind: the manifestation of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah (60: 1-6) looks at battered Jerusalem he envisions it as the quintessential city that will be the Bride of the Lord. The city would manifest its glory, and the peoples of the world would flock to it with gifts, curiously, the same that the Magi would bring to the Babe of Bethlehem centuries later. Most importantly, by the end of times, “all nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord,” as sings the Psalm.

While the Gospel passage (Mt 2: 1-12) echoes Isaiah’s prophecy, it also quotes the chief priests and scribes as saying to king Herod that it was indeed written by the prophet (Micah 5: 1-2; 2 Sam 5: 2): “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.” On the one hand, it shows how well the authorities knew about the coming of a Messiah whom, sadly, they would reject. On the other hand, the reference to Bethlehem is significant, for Jesus would give up on the fortress Jerusalem and choose to be born in humble Bethlehem.

To be noted are Herod’s wily ways: was he not all sweetness who bade the Magi to let him know where the Babe lay, and almost in the same breath ordered the killing of infants under the age of two? A great lesson for us who are naïve vis-à-vis the world and its devious ways. Even while we enjoy the benefits of Christian civilisation, we fail to notice infiltrators bent on paganising the Mystical Body of Christ. Are we, Christians, alert and zealous enough, ready to stand up, speak up? Are we sufficiently imbued with the Good News to desist from entertaining bad news?

We have to emulate the Magi of yore and reject the Herods of the world. Those noble pilgrims from the Orient, astrologers and/or philosophers conversant with Hebraic messianic beliefs, were the first Gentiles to adore Jesus; they accepted Him while the authorities rejected Him – a pathetic drama that is still unfolding in our times. The gifts they offered were gold, in acknowledgement of the royalty of Jesus; frankincense, a reference to His divinity; and myrrh (not mentioned by Isaiah), pointing to the suffering humanity of Jesus.

Finally, St Paul (Eph 3: 2-3, 5-6) states that the Gentiles are indeed “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” This is in stark contrast to the narrow and exclusive Jewish idea of Salvation. The chosen race had clearly failed God, so it is now the Church that is that chosen race, royal priesthood and holy nation. It makes you and me privileged bearers and proclaimers of His luminous message. Our task is to put the lamp on a stand, such that it gives light to all in the house! Instaurare omnia in Christo.


[1] The Church has spread out the rest of the feasts. This year, the Baptism of our Lord is celebrated on 9 January.