Today we celebrate the Twelfth Day of Christmas, which is also the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. We do well to remember on today’s feast that the Name of Jesus, given to Him at His circumcision on the eighth day after His Birth, is so holy and efficacious that it is in itself already a prayer. We can pray well simply by speaking with reverence the Holy Name of Jesus!
Tomorrow we celebrate the great feast of Epiphany of the Lord. This marks a change in the Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas celebrate the Nativity of the Lord in the cave of Bethlehem from His Virgin Mother. On the Thirteenth Day, the season changes its focus from the Birth to the Manifestation of the Divinity of the One Born. It will still be the Christmas season tomorrow, but it will be “Epiphany-tide” rather than “Nativity-tide.”
The Manifestation of the Divinity of the Savior is accomplished in the threefold mystery of His Epiphany: in the Adoration of the Magi, in the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River, and in the miracle of the Wedding Feast of Cana. All three of these events in the life of the Lord reveal to us that the little baby born of Mary is the Almighty Creator of the Universe. In the season of Christmas, we are especially drawn to the mystery of the visit of the Wise Men from the East, who come to Bethlehem on the Thirteenth Day, led by a supernatural Star, in order to worship the newborn King of the Jews.
Christ’s Divinity – indeed, His whole Mystery – is manifest at the Adoration of the Magi especially in the gifts they offer Him. St. Gregory the Great tells us that they brought “gold, as to the great King; they offer up incense as to God, because it is used in the Divine Sacrifice; and myrrh, which is used in embalming the bodies of the dead, is offered as to Him who is to die for the salvation of all.”
In the Adoration of the Magi, the Mystery of Christ is made known to the Gentiles and He is worshipped by them with right faith and burning charity. St. Thomas Aquinas praises the faith of the Magi, which “was a presage of the faith and devotion of the nations who were to come to Christ from afar.” Therefore, Thomas continues, “as the devotion and faith of the nations is without any error through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, so also we must believe that the Magi, inspired by the Holy Ghost, did wisely in paying homage to Christ.” We join them at the house of Bethlehem, worshipping the Christ Child and honoring His Holy Mother and foster-father.
St. Gregory urges us to imitate these holy Gentiles by bringing our own gifts to Him in worship. We are taught by them, he says, to offer gold, “which signifies wisdom, to the new-born King, by the luster of our wisdom in His sight.” We are taught to offer God incense, “which signifies fervor in prayer, if our constant prayers mount up to God with an odor of sweetness”; and we are taught to offer myrrh, “which signifies mortification of the flesh, if we mortify the ill-deeds of the flesh by refraining from them.” As we visit the Nativity scene anew during Epiphany-tide, let us remember the example of these good Gentiles and give to our newborn King, our God, and our Priest the homage, worship, and adoration that are His!
Fr. Joseph Previtali