January 4, 2015 – Solemnity of the Epiphany
Homily delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis
Let’s talk about gifts.
Carol and I received a text from our daughter, Laura, on Christmas morning. It included a video. They captured the candid reaction of their 20-month-old daughter, Ellie, when she saw all of the presents under their tree.
As Ellie ran toward the tree with excitement, all you could hear her say was, “Bow…bow…bow!”
She ran to each package and removed its stick-on bow. Once she had them all, she sat down and played with them, sticking them on her pj’s and in her hair.
Laura’s text said: “We could have saved a lot of money. It looks like the perfect gift for Ellie would have been a pair of Elmo socks and a bag full of bows.”
We admire those people who are able to give the perfect gift – not perfect because of how big it is or how much it cost, but because it says to the recipient, “I know you.”
Those who receive the perfect gift are often caught off-guard. They didn’t even realize that they wanted it or needed it. It wasn’t on their gift radar.
When they open it, you can tell by the expression on their faces – it is the perfect gift. The people watching the opening of the gifts look at one another and nod, secretly wishing they had thought of it.
My daughter Mary started taking piano lessons when she was eight years old. I remember driving to her lesson one afternoon when Billy Joel’s song, Piano Man, came on the radio. I was a big Billy Joel fan (I still am), so I turned up the radio and said to Mary, “Keep practicing and someday you’ll be able to play like this.” She smiled and giggled.
Five years later, on Father’s Day, Mary handed me a gift. It was a cassette tape. I put it in the tape player, and Piano Man could be heard. But it was Mary playing the piano, knocking my favorite song out of the park. On the card, she wrote: “You said someday – today is the day!”
It was the perfect gift – Mary knew me.
Carol has run a total of 10 marathons at different cities around the country. The kids and I tried to go and support her at as many of them as we could. We went to her first two races, but were unable to attend her third one, being held in Chicago. She understood, but it saddened her that we were not going to be able to be there to cheer her on.
When Carol checked into her room at the hotel, there was a small gift on the bed, with a note from Laura: “Don’t open until after the marathon.”
When she returned to the hotel after completing the race, Carol opened the gift to find a small tape player with a note, “Press here.” When she pressed the button, there was a recording of the kids cheering for their Mom – shouting out how awesome she was, how much they loved her and how proud they were of her.
It was the perfect gift – Laura knew her Mom…and made her cry.
Back in the early 90’s, I was pretty sick. I was hospitalized here in Indianapolis for a week, then sent to a special hospital in Chicago where I needed to spend another ten days.
Carol wanted to be near me, so she stayed in a hotel across the street from the hospital. She was worried about me, and panicked about money. This was not something we shared with many people, but we did not have extra money. She knew staying there was going to completely wipe us out – mortgage payment, grocery money, and more would all be gone.
At the end of the week, when Carol went to check out, she was told that someone had paid the bill in full. We never did find out who did that for us.
It was the perfect gift – someone knew us.
The magi, presented to us in Matthew’s Gospel today, brought gifts for the newborn baby – the famous gifts we hear about each year on the Feast of the Epiphany.
Gold was a symbol of royalty and divinity. They knew Jesus was going to be both God and King.
Frankincense was highly fragrant when burned and was therefore used in worship. It symbolized a priestly role. They knew Jesus was going to be both holy and righteous.
Myrrh was a spice used in anointing and embalming. It symbolized suffering and death. They knew Jesus was going to be a sacrificial Lamb.
While these gifts certainly showed that the magi knew about Jesus, they were not the perfect gifts of the magi. The perfect gifts in the story received little notice:
In today’s readings, we hear that the wise men were overjoyed; they proclaimed the praises of the Lord; and they prostrated themselves and did him homage.
The perfect gifts that day were not gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The perfect gifts were joy, praise, and honor.
The magi not only knew about Jesus, they knew Jesus.
The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates God revealing Himself to us. The star above the manger, the words of the shepherds, and the appearance of the magi are all offered as evidence that Jesus is the Christ.
Next week we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. After Jesus was baptized, the sky opened up and a dove came to rest upon Him. A voice from the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Revealed once again. Multiple times throughout Scripture, God reveals Himself to us. He allows us to know Him.
It is His perfect gift to us; and it is a gift that keeps on giving. He is “unwrapped” for us each time we come to Mass and hear the words of consecration.
During the Eucharistic prayer, Father will put his hands over the bread and wine — this action is called the epiclesis — you’ll see me kneel at that time. Then Father will say these words: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…” And then he will make the sign of the cross over the gifts and say, “So that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Epiphany once again – God revealing Himself to us.
Our humble offering of bread and wine will become the perfect gift of the Eucharist right before our very eyes…again. It is just what we need, even if it is not on our gift radar. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
We are capable of giving God the perfect gift in return. We can love Him and love others. And we can offer Him the gifts of the magi – not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the joy, praise, and honor.
In doing so, we give evidence that we truly know Him.