Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The twelfth day of Christmas, January 6, is traditionally the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit of the three kings to the child Jesus. In the United States, this feast is inexplicably transferred to the Sunday between January 2 and 8 (if ever I were to start a letter-writing campaign, it would be to the USCCB asking that the Epiphany be celebrated on January 6, and the Ascension celebrated on Thursday). The symbolism of the twelve days of Christmas is far more important than five golden rings. In those numbered days following the birth of Jesus, we are reminded of the Twelve tribes of Israel and that the mission of the Messiah was first to the God’s Chosen People. Twelve is a biblically significant number that points to fulfillment – with the Nativity of the Lord, the fullness of time has come for God to begin the saving work long foretold. The Magi coming from the East has multiple layers of significance. On the one hand, the East symbolizes the non-Israelite peoples who God will gather in His holy city. On the other hand, the East is the place of the rising sun, and we will see the Magi return to the East carrying the light of the true Son whom they have encountered. That they are wise men who looked to the heavens for a sign indicates the longing of the human heart for relationship with God. The twelve days that pass from the birth of Jesus to the Epiphany remind us that God not only sends His Son to save the people of Israel, but also to save the nations. The Epiphany is thus a feast of the manifestation of the light of Christ to the whole world, to all peoples.
As we celebrate the Epiphany today (yes, early, but better to mark the mystery regardless!), we join the Wise Men journeying to find the Child Jesus. The Church invites us to seek Him again and again, especially at Mass. The Church invites us to bring Him our gifts – in prayer, in works of service, in the sharing of our blessings and resources. The Church invites us to encounter the Child Jesus in real and sacramental ways, most especially in the reception the Eucharist. Then, transformed by our encounter with Jesus, we, like the Magi, return home by another way.
The celebration of the Lord’s Nativity is an occasion to welcome Jesus anew into our hearts. It also calls us to look ahead, to that future day when He will come again in glory. “For as the lightning shines from the East and is visible even as far as the West, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mt. 24:27). As we celebrate the Epiphany, when the light of Christ is manifested to all nations, when the Wise Men return to the East transformed by their encounter with the true Light of the World, we also turn east with them. At each Mass this weekend, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated ad orientem, to the east (in our case, a symbolic, liturgical east, rather than the the eastern point of the compass). It is a reminder that as a community we turn, at the highest point and most important moment of the Mass, together, toward the Lord, seeking His light. Then, together, as a community, nourished by the Eucharist, we return home and to the world to carry what we have received with us to all people. We are invited today to prolong the truth of the Epiphany in our own community and families.
Next week, we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, the day on which Jesus made the waters of baptism holy for us, and thus the day on which baptism become more than a symbolic washing. By His Baptism in the Jordan, the act of baptism takes on sacramental significance, such that the act itself both signifies and accomplishes the remission of original sin and incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church. In 2021, St. Pius X Parish witnessed over 100 baptisms! Next week, we will remember the graces received in baptism and pray in a special way for those baptized in the last year.