Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 60:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 72; II: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
“May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts.” So begins the collect for the Mass of the Epiphany of the Lord. Many are the rich and worthy traditions of the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We sing and reflect upon the three kings following the star and the gifts they brought for the baby Jesus. And in the fullness of this liturgical season we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the wedding at Cana of Galilee. Each and all of these events share with the seeking heart a lesson of the path of those seeking to grow in their realization of God, of Jesus, in their life. But more accurately the splendor of Epiphany is, first and foremost, about the manifestation of God in creation and in our lives. The splendor of hope that is God seeking us in our darkness.
To explore the Epiphany manifestations of God, in Christ Jesus is a pilgrimage of all eternity. For it is to explore and realize, learn and experience, the infinite splendor of God’s majesty. Epiphany is to come to and know…Jesus, God come in the flesh. This journey to Jesus will bring us to grow in the beauty and power of His holiness, God’s resolute justice, the Creator glory, the blood stained splendor of His passion and the infinite glory of His resurrection. It is a journey where we face the darkness of this world and trust in the hope of the Light who is the Christ. Like the Magi we will never know the power and pull of the star unless we accept the place and purpose of the dark nights of our souls. God allows the dark to teach us to rest in Him and trust and rejoice in the dawn.
Again, infinite are the epiphanies of God. But let us follow the Holy Spirit to explore but four manifestations of God so urgently needed as we begin the new year of 2021. Let us grow to better know and experience Christ our Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love.
As this new year dawns strong are the hopes we share. Of course we share our human hopes, health over the pandemic, healing for the nation, the environment and especially hope for a new dawn of the sacredness of all life. But as important as these hopes are we must learn that if they are to be they must take root deeply in the Hope who is God. Human hope, medical, financial, political, even religious is limited and confined by our humanity. Now, more than ever, we must grow in the eternal, infinite hope who is our Lord. It is in the dark wilderness of our sorrows or disappointments we must allow God’s holy angels to lift our hearts and eyes beyond our despairs to the Light of His star. Despair, anger, hates rooted in fear, have no place in the lives of those who seek the King of Bethlehem. Yes those despairs of this world are very real. But greater is the Light who has come than the darkness of this world. Let the Hope who is Jesus awaken our hearts each day of this year.
We sometimes overlook the splendorous manifestation of God’s mercy in the journey of the kings to worship Jesus. The magi were very likely from the Persian realms of present day Iran and Iraq. They were gentiles, pagans. Idol worship was their religious practice. The Incarnation of Jesus came when the Jewish people were oppressed by the Gentile Romans. They had endured centuries of warfare and conquest from the Babylonion/Persian empires. Aside from the very stringent Mosaic restrictions of involvement with those people there were very rigid religious barriers to any encounters beyond the minimal needs of business or travel. It would be profoundly interesting to glimpse the hearts of Mary and Joseph as the magi came into the house where they stayed with the baby Jesus. But they welcomed the kings into their midst. They all were called by the the infant Son of God to an holiest manifestation of God who is mercy. God well knew who He was calling to follow the star to Bethlehem. And like each of us God called them to grow far beyond where they were, to a manifestation beyond their expectations and dreams. Scripture and history say little of what happened with the kings aside from the mercy of God sending the angel to lead them home another way from the perils of Herod. This holy season we are called to continue the journey they began to encounter the new eternal mercies in Christ. To return to our homes, led by His angels to be heralds of God’s forgiveness, of His mercy. Sadly there are many that some may believe are unworthy to come and worship Christ. After all they don’t follow the teachings that are given and cherished. Their practices are not acceptable to the standards of the faith. But they would come, seeking Jesus. Will they encounter a manifestation of His holy mercy and hope that all humanity yearns for? Will they be able to encounter Jesus in us? He who calls them in mercy, born in our hearts?
This sharing of Epiphany with Jesus and each other brings us to grow in hope and the freedom of God’s mercy that will empower us to journey on in holy joy. We all, holy or seeking, strong or crippled are called to Christ. We are called to Him who comes to us where we are and brings us to where we are created to be…with Him. This holy, Epiphany joy is a manifestation of the Savior He longs for us to know. Think of the kings as they finally find Jesus in Bethlehem. The relief, the JOY as they entered into His Presence! Think of the gifts they gave, with joy, even in their surprise at His humble home. One of the greatest secrets of encountering our epiphanies is in the giving God calls us to share. Indeed God calls us to give beyond what we see as our abilities….or inabilities. God calls us beyond our own handicaps to help others. For we are all crippled by this life. Except in the Presence of Emmanuel. God wants us to heed His Epiphany call to share His joy in a world crippled in the darkness of worry, fear and hate. It is ours to share for in His Presence we will know Epiphany joy rooted in His eternal love.
The visit of the wise men is just the beginning of the Epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ. What continues with His baptism, the wedding at Cana and the many miracles and teachings that followed was climaxed in His Passion and death on the Cross. Jesus came for each of, for all of us, to manifest His Hope, Mercy and Joy. All of which are rooted in the splendor of God’s Love. We are all familiar with the scourges of the Covid 19 pandemic. The intense, pain of so many dying separated from family and loved ones, the struggles of the many caregivers kept from family and home by countless hours of work, the sorrowful restrictions and prohibitions of gathering with extended family, social groups, communities of worship has become a powerful message about a greater sickness in our world. So many suffer from the pain of loneliness, of broken relationships, love unrealized. Many die from the medically affirmed reality of broken hearts. It is to this lonely, hungry world Jesus came to manifest His love. Jesus calls us, as we are, to know the epiphany of His love as we are. Some would say well..not so fast. Yes God loves us. But God expects us to love Him in lives free from sin and evil passions. THEN we may know those manifestations of His love. Yet this does not follow the lesson of the pagan Magi kneeling before Jesus. It does match the mercy Jesus gave to Peter as he washed the feet of him who would soon deny the Christ. It does not follow with the manifestation of Jesus on the Cross to the thief who saw the Son of God on the Crucified and was promised the Paradise of His holy love that very day. Indeed for God SO LOVED the WORLD that he gave His Son to manifest His Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love to and through each and all of us. It is as we encounter Jesus who IS LOVE that we are then changed to become the people He has redeemed and created us to become.
May this be an holy year of an ever on-growing Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Presence of Jesus, His Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love be with you.