God is full of love – and surprises. Pope Francis explained this during his homily January 6, 2019, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known,” the Holy Father said. “His kindly light shines forth in humble love.”
Francis explained that when Jesus made himself known and began his public ministry, it wasn’t to a King or Emperor, but to a humble man preaching in the desert: John the Baptist. And Jesus wasn’t born in Rome amid the glory of the empire but in a rustic manger. He wasn’t born in the court of Herod!
“Epiphany: this word indicates the manifestation of the Lord, who, as Saint Paul tells us in the second reading (cf. Eph 3:6), makes himself known to all the nations, today represented by the Magi,” the Pope said. “In this way, we see revealed the glory of a God who has come for everyone: every nation, language, and people is welcomed and loved by him. It is symbolized by the light, which penetrates and illumines all things.”
To find Jesus, the Pope continued, requires looking in humble places. There is the surprise – he won’t be found in the places of glory according to the world’s standards. But the Pope insists he will make himself known to all people.
“The light of God shines on those who receive it,” Francis said. “We need to arise, to get up from our sedentary lives and prepare for a journey. Otherwise, we stand still, like the scribes that Herod consulted; they knew very well where the Messiah was born, but they did not move.
“In order to find Jesus, we also need to take a different route, to follow a different path, his path, the path of humble love. And we have to persevere.” Today’s Gospel ends by saying that the Magi, after encountering Jesus, “left for their own country by another road” (Mt 2:12). Another road, different from that of Herod. An alternative route than that of the world, like the road taken by those who surround Jesus at Christmas: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds. Like the Magi, they left home and became pilgrims on the paths of God. For only those who leave behind their worldly attachments and undertake a journey find the mystery of God.”
Pope Francis pointed to the example the Magi. They came humbly to Jesus, presenting him with gifts. And during this season, that triggers a question for people today.
“Indeed, the Magi go to the Lord not to receive, but to give. Let us ask ourselves this question: at Christmas did we bring gifts to Jesus for his party, or did we only exchange gifts among ourselves?
“If we went to the Lord empty-handed, today we can remedy that. The Gospel, in some sense, gives us a little ‘gift list’: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, the most precious of metals, reminds us God has to be granted first place; he has to be worshiped. But do that, we need to remove ourselves from the first place and to recognize our neediness, the fact that we are not self-sufficient.
“Then there is frankincense, which symbolizes a relationship with the Lord, prayer, which like incense rises up to God (cf. Ps 141:2).” Last comes myrrh, used to anoint the body of Jesus when he was taken down from the cross.
“The Lord is pleased when we care for bodies racked by suffering, the flesh of the vulnerable, of those left behind, of those who can only receive without being able to give anything material in return,” Francis concluded. “Precious in the eyes of God is mercy shown to those who have nothing to give back.”