A Sermon for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, preached by Pope St Leo the Great
REJOICE IN THE LoRD, Dearly Beloved, again I say rejoice (Phil. . 4): since in a brief while after Christ's birth, the solemn event of His manifestation to the world takes place: and He Whom the Virgin on -that day brought forth, on this the world acknowledged Him.
Then indeed did the heavens proclaim the glory of God (Ps. xviii), and the sound of His truth went forth into all the earth (Rom. x, 1 8), when to the shepherds appeared the hosts of heaven, announcing the birth of the Saviour, and a star that went before them, led the Magi to adore Him; so that from the East unto the West, the birth of our true King might shine forth; since through the Magi the kingdoms of the East would learn the truths of faith, nor were they to be hidden from the empire of Rome.
Even the cruelty of Herod, seeking to destroy at birth Him Whom he feared might be king, ministers unavvare to the purposes of God: so that while intent upon his horrid crime, and pursuing in the indiscriminate slaughter of the infants the Child that is unknown to him, he everywhere makes known, by a more extraordinary fame, the birth of the Ruler that was announced from the heavens: and both the strangeness of the heavenly sign, and the impiety of this most cruel tyrant, caused it to be more speedily and more precisely spoken of among men.
Fittingly, Dearly Beloved, is that day made sacred by the Epiphany of the Lord. held in special honour throughout the world; and it should also shine with becoming brightness in our hearts, so that not alone by faith but also by our understanding, we may show reverence to the course of these divine events. Already the prophetic voice had gone over to teaching the Gentiles, and the hearts of strangers begin to learn of the Christ Who was foretold by the ancient prophecies. For they wished not to see Him with their eyes, of whom they gave evidence from the Scriptures: so that Him Whom they would not adore, lowly in the helplessness of infancy, they might afterwards crucify, shining in the fullness of manhood.
Whence in you, 0 Priests of Juda, this so faulty knowledge, this so unlearned learning? Asked where Christ was to be born you answer truthfully and from memory what you had read: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it was written by the prophet: And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda are not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come the captain that shall rule my people Israel. This prince that was born the angels announced to the shepherds, and the shepherds announced to you.
OF THIS, DISTANT PEOPLES Of the Eastern kingdoms have learned, through the strange splendour of a star. And lest they err as to the place where lay the newborn King, your learning betrayed what the star did not tell.
The place of the nativity you point out from the testimony of Scripture, the time you learned from the testimony of both heaven and earth: yet when the mind of Herod flamed to destroy, your mind hardened in unbelief. Happier then the ignorance of the children whom the tyrant slew, than your learning to which in his disquiet he turned. You refused to accept His kingdom, Whose city you could proclaim. But they died for Him, who were as yet unable to confess Him.
And so Christ in silence used the power of the power of the Word, so that no years of His would be without their miracle; and as if already saying: Suffer the little children to come to me, for the kingdom of heaven is for such (Mt. xix. 14). He crowns children with a new glory, and in His own made sacred the infancy of all little ones: that we might learn that each age of man is capable of the divine mystery, since even this age was found ready for the glory of martyrdom.
Let us then, Dearly Beloved, acknowledge in the Magi adoring Christ, the first-fruits of our calling and of our faith, and with souls rejoicing, let us celebrate this beginning of our blessed hope. For from that time we began to enter into our eternal inheritance; from that time the words of Scripture that were obscure have revealed Christ to us; and the truth which the blindness of the unbelievers rejected, has shed its light upon all nations.
May this sacred day be therefore honoured among us, in which the Author of salvation revealed Himself to all men: and let us adore Omnipotent in heaven, Him Whom the Magi adored an Infant in His cradle. And as they from their treasures offered to the Lord mystic kinds of gifts, so let us bring forth from our hearts gifts that are worthy of Him. For though He is Giver of all gifts, yet He also looks for the fruits of our diligence: for the kingdom of heaven is not given to those who sleep, but to those who labour and watch in the commandments of God; so that if we have not wasted His gift, through that which He gave us, let us merit to receive that which He promised.
Therefore we exhort your charity, that you refrain yourselves from every evil work, and follow after those that are chaste and just (Rom. xiii. 12). For the children. of light should cast from them the works of darkness. Accordingly, turn away from hatreds, put away lying, overcome pride with humility, cast out avarice, love bountifulness: for it is fitting that the members are in harmony with their Head, that we may merit to be sharers of His promised joys: through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth word without end. Amen