Manifestations of Jesus
The Gospels tell us that Jesus was born in an obscure surrounding – in an isolated cave some distance away from Bethlehem. His birth was announced by the angels to unknown shepherds. Who will believe the tale of shepherds about angels singing in a dark winter night? But when the people saw the Wise Men, in all their royal splendor and erudition, entering Jerusalem and inquiring about the newborn king, all heads turned: “When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt 2:3). Without the Epiphany, Christmas would have just been just a local and rural event. The feast of the Epiphany, therefore, completes the Christmas celebration. It gives universal or global character to the birth of Jesus.
For many of us, the meaning of this feast could be easily lost in the midst of the romanticism and spectacle connected with it: a big bright star, majestic kings on their camels accompanied by their royal entourage, and the precious gifts they brought along with them. Such images are great materials for a Hollywood movie. But the Epiphany is not about the bright star, nor about kings or wise men with their precious gifts. The Epiphany is still about the newborn Savior. It is the Epiphany or the Manifestation of the Lord. After all, he is the Savior, not only of Israel, but of the whole world. We expressed this in the Psalm: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” What does this feast mean?
God is invisible and incomprehensible. He is beyond the grasp of any human mind or imagination. God initiated the opening of the line of communication with man. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways through the prophets” (Heb 1:1). But in the fullness of time, God, in His eternal wisdom, decided to become visible and comprehensible. He manifested Himself to us through Jesus. He became known to us because He was made man. The coming of the Wise Men from the East is the confirmation that Jesus was born not only for the Jewish people, but also for the Gentiles and for all humanity. That is the meaning of the feast we celebrate today.
But how did God manifest Himself? St. Paul said: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human state” (Phil 2:6-7). Jesus was true man. The Wise Men came and what they saw was an ordinary baby. Yet “they prostrated themselves and did him homage” (v. 2:11). They recognized that the baby is the newborn King of the Jews!
Why did he choose to be a baby? A baby is weak, vulnerable and innocent. But actually, the baby possesses great power. The gentle smile of a baby has the power to soothe our tired limbs and aching joints. His presence has the power to change the atmosphere and mood of the entire house. His cries can command his father to get up from bed in the middle of the night to prepare his milk. Even in his sleep, the baby has the power to hush our voices, and make us more patient, more understanding, caring and loving. God did not manifest Himself as a mighty king like Herod or as a powerful commander of a great army. That would have made his subjects follow him out of fear and compulsion. Instead, He manifested Himself as a Child, in order to move our hearts and be obedient subjects of love and tenderness.
In his public life, Jesus manifested himself, not as a rich man, and not as a man of nobility, but as an ordinary man, a carpenter in Nazareth. And even during his ministry, he lived a life of a poor and simple man: “Foxes have lairs, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” It was precisely his simplicity and humility that attracted people from all walks of life, and made His teachings more credible and powerful.
And finally, His last image was that of a crucified man – helpless, powerless and broken. If we look at the gifts of the Magi, we will be surprised to know that these are related to death and burial: the gold coins are used to cover the eyes of the dead, and the incense and myrrh are used to cover the bad smell of decaying flesh. According to the plan of God, Jesus was born to die. His death on the cross, rather than being a sign of weakness and defeat, is the sign of absolute power – the power of love.
God manifested Himself in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the epiphany of God. He is God in the flesh: first as a helpless baby, then as a simple man, and finally as a crucified victim. What does this mean? It means God is willing to humble Himself – becoming just a helpless baby, a simple man and a mangled figure on the cross – in order to show and prove His love for us sinners. We have a God who is willing to suffer and die out of love for us.
A boy was diagnosed of terminal cancer. A priest visited him every day, bringing him small gifts and keeping him company. One time, the priest asked the boy: “Are you afraid of death?” The boy was puzzled: “What will happen when I die?” The priest explained: “Well, when you die, you will see God!” “Then,” the boy said, “if God is as kind as you, I am not anymore afraid to die.”
As we begin this New Year, let us look at ourselves. Do our lifestyle, behavior and actions reflect the humility, simplicity and kindness of God? This feast, therefore, reminds us to be concrete and clear manifestations of Christ in the present world. As Christians, we carry the name of Christ. May Christ be seen in our person, in our conduct and in our lives.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002