Children’s Sermon on the Epiphany by Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. Matt. ii. 1-12. When Jesus, therefore, was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him. And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him: and assembling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him, in Bethlehem of Juda: for so it is written by the prophet: And thou Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them: and sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child: and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore him. Who having heard the king, went their way: and behold, the star which they had seen in the East, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary His mother, and falling down, they adored Him; and opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.
One day, nearly two thousand years ago, a miraculous star of astonishing brightness appeared in the East. Three pious wise men of the East, kings we are told, since known as the Magi, saw it, and, inspired by heaven, they at once knew that the birth of the long-promised King of the Jews had come to pass, and that they were called upon to adore Him. This star appeared through the infinite goodness of the Messias. Not only did He want the homage of poor shepherds, but He also wanted that of the great and the learned ones of this world. He wished to make known His humble birth to all classes of men, and though He was born in an obscure town, in a stable among the meanest surroundings, He wished that all men should recognize Him as the Messias. On this day, the Epiphany of Our Lord, we should rejoice with a new joy because He made known His birth to all the world. This was the first time that the Gentiles were called, the class to which we belong, for we are not Jews nor descendants of Jews, but descendants of pagans. Let me tell you in a few words how the Magi left their own country and set out to find the Child Jesus; and how we too should go forth in search of this divine Infant, and like the Magi, make Him a fitting offering. The Magi saw the star, knew its meaning and started on their journey without any delay. They abandoned their kingdoms and all their earthly interests and gave themselves up to the guidance of the star.
There is a great lesson in this, my dear young friends; remember that it is necessary to respond to the divine call without delay; you must not say I will do it at some future time; I will go to confession soon; I will repent after a while. You must say I will repent now, I will confess my sins now and make my peace with God. Woe to the man that does not obey the divine will at once, but continues obdurate in his sins.
When the Magi, after a long journey, arrived in Jerusalem they made the inquiry, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and are come to adore Him.” There reigned at that time in that country King Herod, called the great, not for his magnificent works, but for his vices and enormous crimes. He had heard of the arrival of these men, and their errand, and he was greatly disturbed by it. Are there, he asked, other kings in Judea, am I not the only king of the Jews? Then he called the Scribes and wise men of the law together, and asked them which place the prophets had designated as the birthplace of the Messias. They pointed to the text of the Prophet Micheas, “And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the Ruler in Israel.”
These words struck terror into Herod’s heart, but he concealed his fears, and having called the Magi to the palace, he asked them the time of the star’s appearance; he then told them that the new King was to be born in Bethlehem; that they should go there, and search for Him, and when they had found Him, to return to him (Herod) so that he also could go and adore Him. What a hypocrite Herod was! He had resolved in his heart to murder that Child, but before the Magi he puts on the appearance of humility, piety and devotion, in order to succeed the better in his dark designs. The murder of the innocents clearly showed what would have been the fate of the new-born King had He fallen into Herod’s hands. This divine Child, O Herod, has many ways of guarding Himself against thy bloodthirsty plans, and even though He escape your cruelty the chastisement of heaven will fall upon you; so great will be your pains that in your anguish you will seek relief in suicide, and when this life is over, hell will be your eternal habitation!
My dear young friends, are there any Herods among you, who outwardly profess piety and devotion, but inwardly are resolved on the spiritual destruction of the innocent? Those who sully their tongues with vile language and then, unrepentant and uncorrected, receive the immaculate Lamb on that same tongue? Ah! if there be such here, let the fate of the impious Herod be a warning to them; for God’s vengeance will not fail to follow them. After the Magi had heard Herod’s announcement, they went on toward Bethlehem, and raising their eyes to heaven saw there the guiding star, which beckoned them to follow. They were filled with inexpressible joy at this favor of God, and started once more on their journey.
The joy of the Magi was great because now they knew they were on the right road. If you have trodden the way of vice and sin and have wandered far from God, you will never feel true peace and happiness. As Isaias says, “There is no peace to the wicked.” The Magi journeyed on with a light step until they reached the city of Bethlehem, and going through the winding streets, the star stood over a poor hut, as if to say, here is the spot in which you will find the new-born King; here your journey ends. What a building in which to look for the King of the Jews! Nothing but a stable, a cave which served as a refuge for animals. What did the Magi think when they stood there, and what did they say? Did they turn to one another and say we have been duped, and thus ends this great farce? Our modern scientific and learned philosophers would certainly have said so, but the Magi were a different people; they were pagans, it is true, but they had learned on their journey all about God; and now that they were there before this miserable stable, their faith was not shaken. They entered the place and found the Child Jesus, seated on the knees of the Blessed Virgin. He held out His little arms to His visitors, welcoming them, and bidding them approach. A supernatural power forced them to see that this Child was God, the Messias, the King of the Jews, and falling down they adored Him. What a beautiful sight, to see the wise men show their love of God! We are often too proud to show any signs of religion; it seems as if a little wickedness is acceptable to all. Then the Magi brought out their treasures and their offerings; gold, incense, and myrrh, which were the products of their country. They were allowed to kiss the feet of the Infant, and they wept in sympathy at the poverty of the Child and His Mother.
Like the Magi, we, too, must offer gifts to the new-born Babe of Bethlehem. What gifts are most grateful to Him? Let us give Him our hearts, but before we give them let us cleanse them by contrition and confession. This little Child will help us to purify our souls so that they will be as pure as refined gold, and as valuable. Let us then arise, and carrying our hearts in our hands, hold them out to Him. He will gladly accept them, He will bless us, and give us that peace which we can find only in God.
Behold us, O dear Child Jesus, prostrate at Thy feet; willingly we offer Thee our hearts, poor ones as they are; but Thou wilt make them suitable to Thyself. Of ourselves we promise that we will never again offend Thee. The bad habits we have indulged in will, by Thy grace, be eradicated, so that we may live better lives. Accept these cold hearts, inflame them with Thy sacred love; make them desire to love Thee sincerely, so that from this glorious day we may do nothing but what is to Thy greater glory.