'The star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was....On entering the house they saw the child with Mary, His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage...' -- Mt. 2:9,11

The Epiphany of the Lord is one of the great liturgical celebrations of the entire year. It encompasses, in one great feast, the entirety of all of salvation.

The traditional day for celebrating the solemnity of the Epiphany is Jan. 6, but the Church transfers that celebration to the Sunday after the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (New Year's). The Epiphany of the Lord is traditionally the 12th day after Christmas. It has been celebrated for centuries with festivals, parades and gift-giving, marking the arrival of the Magi.

The celebration continues what was begun at Christmas with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the birth of our Savior at Christmas, we celebrate that the Word became flesh: the incarnation. In the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate the manifestation of the revelation of the incarnation now spreading throughout the world: that the birth of Jesus Christ has universal implications. Epiphany is the celebration of the call to universal salvation.

King of all
This Sunday's first reading (Is 60:1-6) tells us how the people of Israel who were in exiled in Babylon would be freed and embark on their journey home. The words of the prophet take on greater understanding in light of Jesus' life, death and resurrection: "Upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears His glory. Nations shall walk by your light."

Jesus, as universal king, calls all nations to give the Lord their adoration. Psalm 72 helps us to understand the true meaning of this great feast of the Church: "Lord, every nation on Earth will adore you." The response we sing at Mass is the call to all humanity to bring the one gift the Lord truly desires: our faith.

St. Paul speaks of this universal call to salvation (Eph 3:2-3,5-6): "It has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the gentiles are co-heirs."

The Magi represent all nations on Earth. They come to adore the babe in the manger, for this infant will bring salvation to all the world. "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the new born king of the Jews?'" (Mt 2:1-2).

Three gifts
The gifts the Magi bring are a further revelation of who Jesus Christ is and what He will do for the people of Israel and the world. The gift of gold represents Jesus' kingship: The Son of God takes back the kingship that was rightfully God's before the people of Israel took it away and gave it to an earthly king, Saul.

The first and second books of Samuel describe how Israel wanted a king and Samuel was disheartened, for they were rejecting God as their king (1 Sm 8:6-8). That also foreshadowed how some in Israel would not recognize Jesus as the rightful king of the Jews. The Romans would go even further by placing the inscription on Jesus' cross, "King of the Jews." At the moment of His death on the cross, Jesus becomes our Lord Jesus Christ, king of the universe.

The gift of frankincense represents that this babe born in the manger is holy. As Scripture says, "Let our prayers be incense before you" (Ps 141:2). Jesus Christ will raise up our prayers in His suffering and death on the cross.

This leads us to the deeper meaning of gift of myrrh. Myrrh was used to prepare the body for burial. The gift of myrrh reminds us of the great sacrifice Christ offered for our salvation: His death on the cross. Each time we join in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we join with the entire Church in offering ourselves as a gift to Christ.

The full meaning of our faith can be found in three little gifts offered by three strangers to a babe in a manger. How much more will the gift of ourselves delight our Lord.