The Feast of the Lord’s Epiphany is traditionally observed on the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6th.1 In the universal law of the Latin Church, Epiphany is a holy day of obligation (can. 1246); the same law gives to conferences of bishops (with the approval of the Holy See) the right to abolish certain holy days or transfer their observance to a Sunday. In the United States, Epiphany is observed on the first Sunday following January 1st, which in 2019 falls, happily, on January 6th. jQuery(‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_4220_1’).tooltip({ tip: ‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_4220_1’, tipClass: ‘footnote_tooltip’, effect: ‘fade’, predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: ‘top right’, relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); On that day, the Church recalls Jesus Christ’s epiphany, or manifestation, to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi. God had been preparing the human race for this event ever since Adam’s fall from grace. The Israelites had their sacred Scriptures and inspired Prophets to prepare them. Isaiah prophesied: A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Mid’ian and E’phah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord (Is 60:6). The Psalmist prayed: May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! (Ps 72:10). Saint Matthew records that, in answer to Herod’s question where the Christ was to be born, the chief priests and scribes replied: In Bethlehem of Judea (Mt 2:5), as the Lord had said through the prophet Micah.2 Micah 5:1: “But you, O Bethlehem Eph’rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” jQuery(‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_4220_2’).tooltip({ tip: ‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_4220_2’, tipClass: ‘footnote_tooltip’, effect: ‘fade’, predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: ‘top right’, relative: true, offset: [10, 10], });

Although God had given the Jews the privilege of having “inside information,” it seems He had also prepared the Gentile world for the coming of His Son. Pagan philosophers and historians, such as Cicero, Tacitus, and Suetonius, testified that the world was in expectation of a new Kingdom of peace and righteousness under the rule of a glorious Deliverer who would come, not only from the East, but from Judea. Plato and Socrates also spoke of the Universal Wise Man “yet to come.” The Greeks had outgrown their gods and held empty niches ready for unknown gods. And in Rome, forty years before the birth of Jesus, the poet Virgil disturbed Caesar Augustus with his anticipation of the birth of a boy who will “receive the life of gods” and bring a Golden Age to the world.3 Eclog. iv: “The last age foretold by the Cumean Sibyl, is at hand; a new and glorious era is coming: a new race is being sent down to earth from heaven. At the birth of this Child, the iron age will cease, and one of gold will rise upon the whole world. … No remnants of our crimes will be left, and their removal will free the earth from its never-ending fear.” As quoted in Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. 3: Christmas–Book II, 4th edition, trans. L. Shepherd (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1948), p. 167. jQuery(‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_4220_3’).tooltip({ tip: ‘#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_4220_3’, tipClass: ‘footnote_tooltip’, effect: ‘fade’, predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: ‘top right’, relative: true, offset: [10, 10], }); The time was ripe for the coming of the Savior, and Jews and Gentiles alike sensed it.

A star appeared, and the wise men of the East—perhaps they were Persians or Arabs—were certain that it signaled the birth of the King of the Jews, so they went to Jerusalem to inquire where He had been born. After their audience with the scheming Herod, they made the five-mile journey to Bethlehem and, finding the Child, adored Him and offered Him the gifts most valued in the East: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is offered in tribute to a king; incense, in sacrifice to a deity; and myrrh, a fragrant resin, is used to embalm or sprinkle on dead bodies—an odd present for a newborn baby, to be sure, but a clue to why He came into our world. Perhaps these pagan sages realized the Christ-child to be the fulfillment of the hope of Israel. Even so, why should they care?

Praise the Lord

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