“And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the ruler that shall rule my people Israel.”
Today’s feast is called the “Epiphany” or “Manifestation of our Lord.” It is actually a number of manifestations, which took place over a number of years. These manifestations are presented liturgically over the next few weeks. The first of these was the announcement by the angels to the shepherds—a sort of prophesy or revelation—if they would go into Bethlehem they would see the babe “in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.”
In the Night Office pope Saint Gregory the Great (quoting Saint Paul) pointed out that the shepherds were able to receive a revelation from the angels because they were believers in the one true God. The Magi, pagans from the East, did not know the God of Israel, and could not receive His revelation, so they were given a sign instead. The Christmas star was a phenomenon of nature which even an unbeliever could apprehend and would be drawn by his curiosity.
Gregory suggests that created nature somehow knew its God, and testified to Him over Jesus’ time on earth:
The heavens knew that He was God, and sent a star to shine over where He lay. The sea knew it, and bore Him up when He walked upon it. The earth knew it, and quaked when He died. The sun knew it, and was darkened. The rocks and walls knew it, and rent at the hour of His death. Hell knew it, and gave up the dead that were in it.
Another Pope, Saint Leo the Great, even went so far is to say that King Herod’s despicable actions actually magnified the sign for all who knew of the slaughter of the Innocents. People would naturally want to know Who could possibly have been important enough to trigger Herod’s violent fit of jealousy.
The third of the Epiphany manifestations came far later in time—thirty years or so—and it was the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. The Baptist had gathered a following by preaching repentance. He told the crowds:
I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come One mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire….
And presently, Jesus arrived at the Jordan:
Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon Him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased.
This third manifestation was both a sign and a revelation. God, the Holy Ghost, became visible in the physical shape of a dove, for all to see, and a voice from heaven revealed that Jesus was the Son of God.
Indeed, Saint Luke concludes this chapter of his Gospel by tracing the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph back to Isaac and Abraham and all the way back through “Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.”
In two weeks’ time we will commemorate the fourth and last of the Epiphany manifestations—the working of our Lord’s first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. I was going to tell you that it was a manifestation with a sign, but no revelation. I would have been wrong. The sign is obvious—Jesus turned six large stone jars filled with water into wine! John wrote his Gospel in order to disprove the non-believers who had begun to deny the divinity of Jesus—a strong sign was necessary for these un-believers—and the miraculous connection between Jesus and the wine He produced was far more clear than the connection between Jesus and a conjunction of stars. The wedding guests at Cana could not only see what Jesus did—they could taste it. The chief steward of the feast remarked to the bridegroom: “You have kept the good wine until now.”
So what was the revelation at Cana? It was not the singing of angels—it was no “Glória in excélsis Deo.” It was not a voice out of Heaven proclaiming the Son of God. Remember that revelations are for believers. And the more subtle the revelation, the stronger must be the belief. There are, in fact, people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, who yet deny the revelation of the wedding in Cana. That subtle revelation is the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was worked solely through the intercession of His Blessed Virgin Mother. It was she who noticed that “They have no wine.” To which He replied: “Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour has not yet come.” The miracle seemed to be “on hold”! But Mary has the power of the perfect Son’s love for her: “Do whatever He tells you to do,” she says, and the first miracle of Jesus Christ is under way.
Perhaps this revelation was actually two revelations. “Do whatever He tells you to do” is a revelation of Mary’s intercession on behalf of those in need. But “Do whatever He tells you to do” is also a revelation that our needs will be met in proportion to our own good behavior. “Do whatever He tells you to do” means that we must strive diligently to do the things which God commands we do. We have that on no less authority than the authority of the Mother of God.
“Do whatever He tells you to do”