THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORDJANUARY 6, 2019
Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12
by Jude Siciliano, OP
Epiphany is an ancient feast in the church. The date was fixed on January 6 because that was the date of the winter solstice, which celebrated the rising of the sun god. Light was returning, the days growing longer. The word "epiphany" means "manifestation," or "appearance." Thus, we celebrate Christ as the Light of the World; he dispels our sin and darkness.
This feast is not just for one people, one religion; for Christ is the "Light of the World." That’s what the visit of the Magi represents; Gentiles following the light of the star to Christ, the source of light.
When Christmas is observed in parishes and dramatized in pageants, the Magi are depicted kneeling by the manger, immobile. But in today’s gospel the Magi are very much on the move. They travel a long distance, ask questions and then follow the star again to the Christ child. He is found in his home, not in Bethlehem, his birthplace. On Christmas we celebrated Christ’s birth, God-made-flesh. Epiphany is not a birth story; the Magi foreigners help us focus on celebrating the light of God’s saving presence for all peoples.
On this feast we arrive with the Magi at Christ’s home and do homage to the Light of the World. We also accept our responsibilities to be transparent. We not only follow the light of Christ, we are called to shine in a way that brings Christ’s light to the darkness of this world of ours. Don’t be fooled by the Nativity scenes and the immobile Magi. Matthew tells us when they arrived at Christ’s house they "prostrated themselves and did him homage." They laid their gifts before the Christ child and then, warned in a dream, depart for their country by another way. They leave to return home – changed by the Light to whom they gave homage.
Isaiah prophesied that God’s light would shine on the people as they struggled to rebuild their nation and their lives after the exile. He promised that the fallen city of Jerusalem would rise from its ashes. "Rise up in splendor Jerusalem!" The new city would shine with God’s glory and would draw the nations to it, offering their wealth in homage – "gold and frankincense" – and joining with the returned exiles in praising God.
Thus, in Matthew’s Gospel, the first to do homage to the Christ child were not the angels, or shepherds (that’s from Luke’s account), but the Gentile astrologers. They fall down, worship and offer their gifts. God has opened the door to the Gentiles and they are quick to respond. This will be a theme throughout Matthew’s Gospel, just as Isaiah prophesied, "Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance."
There is a paradox in the Gospel account. The Jewish leaders had the Scriptures and the prophecies about the coming Messiah. Yet, they missed his birth. Later they will even conspire to put him to death. But the Magi, guided first by the star and then the Scriptures, accept Jesus as Messiah and worship him. When they arrive in Jerusalem they ask, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?" There is no little irony in their question and the title they attribute to Jesus – "king of the Jews." Later that will be the inscription his enemies put on the cross at his crucifixion. Herod and his advisers reject Jesus, but not the Gentiles.
Remember that Matthew was writing for Jewish converts. So, in telling the story of the Magi foreigners, he was encouraging those converts to welcome the Gentiles who were coming into the church. This is a theme from the beginning of the gospel. In a way, today’s reading is a summary of the entire gospel: Jesus is the "appearance" (epiphany) of the Messiah and the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. The political powers are troubled at the news, but Jesus will establish a new Israel that will embrace the outsiders – the Gentiles (Matthew 8:11). Today’s gospel echoes the Isaiah reading which describes the final days when Jerusalem will shine like a bright star and draw all nations together, "bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord."
I’m thinking of all the very good people I know who do not profess our faith. But goodness shines forth from them. It’s not hard to attribute this goodness to God’s presence and work in their lives. I want to share my faith with them by naming God’s presence already with them. How can we do that without sounding patronizing, judgmental, or "preachy?" Since "epiphany" means "manifestation" or "appearance," then we must look beyond the privacy of our own world of faith to show forth Christ’s presence in his many manifestations. The surprise of the Magi’s appearance worshiping the infant Jesus should break down the mental and physical barriers we have towards "others." Today reminds us that Jesus came for everyone.
To respond to the Magi’s inquiry Herod turned to the chief priests and the scribes of the people: "He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born." They respond by quoting the prophet Micah: "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, least among the rulers of Judah...." So, it is among the least that the Messiah will be born. Again, Matthew is summarizing a central theme in his gospel. For example, he repeats it in the parable of the Last Judgment. Christ blesses those who cared for the neediest saying, "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least sisters and brothers, you did it for me" (25:40).
How does the Lord come to us? He comes in the least. The story of the Magi is told to children as a Christmas tale. In our nativity sets they are depicted as distinguished visitors. But remember they were outsiders and, they challenge us to welcome the outsiders among us – immigrants, homeless, prisoners, unemployed, etc. When we do acknowledge Christ among the least we also notice they, like the Magi, bring valuable gifts to us, starting with the very presence of Christ.
The story of the Magi ends in a challenging way. When they learned of Herod’s evil intentions they, "left for their own country by another road." This biblical symbolism – a change of path – suggests that having found Jesus the encounter changed their lives. Is that what has begun to happen for us this Epiphany season? Have we met the Lord anew and has the encounter also changed our lives – even a little bit?
Do you have this Epiphany custom? On this feast we bless our homes. We process through the house singing, "We Three Kings," and sprinkle holy water in each room praying for the persons who will rest and work in them. We also pray for those will come as guests. It is also a custom to inscribe in chalk on the lintel of the door: 20+C+M+B+19. It is the year and the traditional initials for the Magi. Which is also the abbreviation of the Latin blessing: "Christus mansionem benedicat" ("Christ bless this home"). We pray that those who enter our homes this year will be blessed and find Christ among us.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010619.cfm
|The homily is not simply
an explanation of the scriptures, the fruit of research into the
best scholarship. Nor is it the drawing of a moral from the
scriptures, nor using the scriptures to back up the latest need for
school support or abortion law reform. Nor is the homily a great a
great literary creation "from nothing": the scriptures and eucharist
are its beginning and its ending. The homilist helps the assembly
appreciate the wonderful web that links word and sacrament and daily
----from LITURGY WITH STYLE AND GRACE, by Gabe Huck and Gerald T.Chinchar. (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1998), page 50.
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
"But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God."
"A Psalm for the Twelve Days of Christmas"
O timeless and ever-youthful God,
I thank you for these twelve days of Christmas.
And I ask the gift of an endless encore
of this feast of the birth of your Son.
Though I am grown now
beyond the age of childhood toys,
gift me with playful tool
of how to treat each day
as a Christmas gifting day.
Grant me within these twelve days of Christmas,
the bottomless gift
of the heart of a child:
enthusiastic with the excitement of expectation,
unashamed to play and dance with delight
and filled with a faith in elves and fairies.
Place upon my feet
shoes of lead
that I may be slow to put away
the electric stars that have hung
like clusters of constellations
upon my Christmas tree.
They have nightly spoken to me
of what a child’s eyes
can see in every tree.
Turn to concrete my Christmas consciousness,
that I may continue to greet
hassled clerks in crowded stores
and nameless strangers on the street
with blessings and joyful wishes.
And so by living the whole year
in the quality of Christmastide,
your Word may endlessly become flesh
in me, your Christmas child.
----by Edward Hayes (Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, Forest of Peace, 1989)
Wishing you a HAPPY EPIPHANY!
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod,
behold Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews?"
How does the Lord come to us? He comes in the least. Remember the Magi were outsiders and so they challenge us to welcome the outsiders among us – immigrants, homeless, prisoners, unemployed, etc. When we do acknowledge Christ among the least we also notice they, like the Magi, bring valuable gifts to us, starting with the very presence of Christ.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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