Jesus is Universal Lord
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
We have an amazing God, a God that is love, a God that wants us to call Him Abba Father, a God that wants us to be his children, one in the Body of Christ His only begotten Son. And He gave us the gift of free will, the freedom to choose, to choose self (my will be done) or God (They will be done).
Today we celebrate the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the human scene. For the Greeks, the word “Epiphany” was used to describe an appearance or manifestation of a god among human beings. The Fathers of the Church used this word for the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Savior. Today we are celebrating the appearance of the Divine in space and time.(ex 3:12, 19:18, act 2:3-4), a God that is love, a love that is so great that He sent His only begotten Son to rescue us. Not as a royal king born in royalty, but born to a poor family in a manger, not one to be served but to serve. Jesus came to us that we may have life, opening heaven, offering us a share in His divinity, to be children of God no longer slaves but free men. “This day Christ appeared to the world as a light shining in the darkness. May we follow him in faith and be a light to others.”
The story of the Magi or wise men was included in Matthew’s Gospel to show that from the beginning God intended to call the Gentiles (non-Jews) into unity with the Chosen People. This story was probably an answer to the fundamentalists of the early Church, who opposed Paul’s work with the Gentiles on grounds that this was just a “human decision” of the Church: and that Jesus himself” never preached to non-Jews. The problem was that the Jews, like everyone else, were tempted to be nationalistic. They would say “Israel first” the same way we might say “America first.”
Isaiah’s prophecy, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, Nations shall come to your light…. The wealth of the nations shall come to you” could mean that Israel would dominate the earth with a universally respected Jewish culture. In reality, this prophecy meant that by the light which came to earth through the Jews, every human culture would be transformed without losing its identity. The entire human “wealth of the nations: both material and cultural would be shared among all without being lost to any. God’s plan from all eternity was to “gather up all things in Him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10), Jesus did not come to make one nation or culture dominant over others but instead to glorify the entire human race by bringing everything human, in all its variety and diversity, to its full potential, not only to its natural perfection, but to the glory it can have when transformed by grace.
The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. The wise men knew about this expected Messiah, the King of the Jews. According to ideas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance in world history would have a star connected with his birth. God made use of these ideas to draw to ‘Christ these representatives of the Gentile who would later be converted. The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews, in this way the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, would be known to all. St. John Chrysostom writes: “God calls them by means of the things they are most familiar with and he shows them a large and extraordinary star so that they would be impressed by its size and beauty”. God called the wise men in the midst of their ordinary occupations, and he still calls people in that way. He called Moses when he was shepherding his flock (ex 3:1-2), Elisha the prophet plowing his land with oxen (1king 19:19-20), Amos looking after his herd (amos 7:15). Why should it surprise you that God is calling YOU where you are today, to be his witness, to be his disciples, to be the light in the darkness of this world. Josemaria Escriva writes in his book “The Way”. “What amazes you seems natural to me: that God has sought YOU out in the practice of your profession! That is how he sought the first apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John beside their nets and Matthew, sitting in custom-house, and Paul in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity.”
Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly,” through the life of grace (Jn 10:10). Saint Irenaeus says, “As those who see light are in the light sharing its brilliance, so those who see God are in God sharing his glory, and that glory gives them life.” He adds that, if we persevere in love, obedience and gratitude to God, “We will receive greater glory from him, a glory which will grow ever brighter until we take on the likeness of the one who died for us.” Saint Paul spoke of building up the Body of Christ, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (eph 3:14). The glory of God and the glory of the human race become one and the same reality in “the fullness of Christ” — head and members— and that glory is “all humanity, fully alive.” According to Saint Paul, we are called; we are called, consecrated and commissioned to bring about the glory of God, shining through a glorified human race united, with all its individual and cultural diversity, into one Body in Christ. To celebrate Epiphany is to celebrate not just the light of Christ but the revelation of that light to the whole world. To celebrate this means to rejoice in it, to “single out for grateful remembrance” that people of every race, culture and nation are called to be one Church, one assembly, one in Christ. We are called to be one with each other in faith, in hope and in love. Without suppressing diversity or differences. We are called to rejoice in the fact that our Church is Catholic (meaning universal) that is a composite of culture and nations and does not express itself in the same way all over the world. Above all, this feast calls us to reach out to others and invite them to celebrate with us the light of Christ. Epiphany reminds us that it is not catholic to want a community of people comfortable with each other, because they share the same language, customs, culture or social background, we should not be comfortable until we have invited everyone to join us as believers in Jesus.
Like the Magi we have discovered a star, a light and a guide in the sky of our souls. We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shinning in our soul and growing increasingly brighter. It was and is a desire to live a fully Christian life, a keenness to take God seriously. When all is said and done it is simply a choice – God or self. I do not know about you but I choose God, my soul is thirsting for God. Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful enkindle in them the fire of your divine love.
By Deacon John Hackett
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, and as a prelude to my thoughts today, this is actually a very special day for me, even though the reason is sorta trivial. You see, many years ago, when I was a kid in a group of other kids listening to a much-loved priest explain to us the meaning of the Epiphany, he jokingly warned us up front that we must learn to correctly pronounce the word “Epiphany”, and not to say “Ep-i-phany”, which some of us were prone to do. We all laughed! Well, that memory has lingered with me all these years. In a way, you may want to think it was an unintentional ministry of that wonderful priest, because after he told us the correct pronunciation, I have never forgotten him and all the wonderful work he did with us kids back then
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, and as a prelude to my thoughts today, this is actually a very special day for me, even though the reason is sorta trivial. You see, many years ago, when I was a kid in a group of other kids listening to a much-loved priest explain to us the meaning of the Epiphany, he jokingly warned us up front that we must learn to correctly pronounce the word “Epiphany”, and not to say “Ep-i-phany”, which some of us were prone to do. We all laughed! Well, that memory has lingered with me all these years. In a way, you may want to think it was an unintentional ministry of that wonderful priest, because after he told us the correct pronunciation, I have never forgotten him and all the wonderful work he did with us kids back then. His gift to me…
OK, so…why are we here today on this the feast of the Epiphany? And what might it mean to us here and now as we enter a new year. And what might it mean for us as the years roll on. Is there something everlasting about this special feast?
Well, to begin with, our Gospel today tells us that the movement of humankind towards God begins with God…. God choosing an engaged involvement over a more or less detached and untouchable separateness. Apparently, in God’s wisdom, we needed this body; this touchable body, one that breathed like us, felt like us, and hurt like us.
And when we read this gospel we are reading our own story, the story of our journey to God. Like the Magi, we are often called to God from far off places…distances often of our own making. We might have to struggle through deserts and ask others to show us the way. Like the Magi, we often make our way through indifference, hostility, politics, even scandal…and then we find the one we are to worship as Savior and King.
Unfortunately, in many ways, we have tamed this story with talk of kings, crowns, and camels. I remember a Christmas pageant I once attended featuring the 3 magi wearing what appeared to be 3 paper crowns from the local Burger King. We often forget it is about real people seeking someone, seeking the light, that we all hope to find. If one word were used to sum up this gospel, it would be inclusiveness. In fact, the whole Christmas story is about inclusiveness, starting at the very beginning. Read your bible, it’s there all over the place: the master of inclusiveness.
You see, the first to come to the stable are shepherds, but not as we see them on Christmas cards today, but real shepherds who were considered the crooks at the time, looked down upon, avoided by decent folk, people you would be tempted to sic the dog on. And they are the ones chosen to be the first to hear that God has touched earth.
Then the Magi – outsiders…not even Jewish…pagans! A Jew could not even let them into his house because they were ritually impure. They were not to be trusted or encouraged to stay around.
So, as it turns out, the two groups who were invited and guided to the stable were the most despised and the most rejected. Isn’t that what the gospel is all about? Where do we find Jesus most of the time? Who is He with? The most despised and discarded. That is why our church must be attentive to people whose lives have been fractured, people who turn away from our church because they did not feel welcome, people who are told their lives are disoriented. The Eucharist that we share today is not a reward for good behavior, it is food for the journey.
So, what does all this tell us? It tells us that if we have ever felt rejected, we belong at the stable. If we have somehow not measured up to other people’s standards, we belong at the stable. If we have sinned or separated ourselves from God, we belong at the stable. It is interesting that when they had found the Lord, the Magi entered the stable, and not a word was spoken. Perhaps words could not convey all they had found. The One whom the whole universe cannot contain, now enclosed in a tiny baby…. they look, they believe. The only thing they could do was fall on their knees, and offer Him their gifts. They wanted to give Him something.
So, with that being said, as the New Year begins, I leave you with a question: As you come forward to receive Him today, what will you give Him?
A story was broadcast on public radio last year; it was about an elderly African-American woman from the Bronx. A few days after 9/11 she heard that a doctor who was helping with the survivors had injured his leg – but he kept going, using a piece of wood instead of a cane. She made her way down through intense security to lower Manhattan, to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a center of rescue operations. For that elderly woman, it was a journey as difficult and hazardous as the Magi’s. She wanted to give a gift to the doctor who, like many others, was working around the clock. She gave him her cane to help him walk.
I do not know what motivated that simple but profound act. But I can imagine that she must surely have had her eyes open wide, searching for something or someone greater than herself. There he was, in the middle of the dead and dying, and she came and offered her simple gift of homage, and went home. All the noble people who had been working so hard there were stunned into silence by such a simple act of kindness.
In ending, please be it known, the Christ child is no longer in the stable. He grew up. You cannot go and worship Him there. But better still, you can come here and receive Him, and then offer your gift to the “other Christs”…they are sitting all around you.
By Deacon Don Griffith
All through the weekdays of Advent, Christ’s bride, in the Liturgy of the Hours, was praying Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. And every night before sleeping, Christ’s bride prays in the words of Simeon as he held the Holy Infant: My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel. The light prayed for is our Lord Jesus, who calls Himself the Light of the world. Without this Light, we stumble in the darkness of sin and death. With the light of Christ, which the darkness cannot overcome, we are able to see not just where we are going, but also see the world as it truly as such the goodness of creation, our fallen state and separation from God, the reality of sin and a loving Father, who sent his Only Begotten Son to be our Redeemer and through Him sends to us the Holy Spirit so that we might share the lot of the saints in light. This Christ, this Light of the world, is who the magi long to adore and we can see in them the revealing of God’s plan for us that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations (CCC 528).
In the first reading, we heard that darkness covered the earth. When we think about darkness, if a lantern is burning in front of us, even if we are far from the light, we can still see it. But if that same light at that same distance is behind us, then we have no idea that a light is burning. This is a reason that faith comes from hearing. The God of love and mercy called those who followed Him through the proclamation of His gospel, and hearing that they turned toward Christ our Light. This Pilgrim Church founded by Christ has continued through the centuries to our day. When we were lost in the darkness of sin and death far from and turned away from the God who created us, perhaps we didn’t know a light is shining. The God of love and mercy constantly calls our name through the proclamation of the gospel. The words pierce our heart as only the words of the One who loves us can do: I love you, I created you, I have died for you, and I desire eternal life for you. And in hearing, we turn. As we turn, we begin to see the light, a light like a city set on a hill, which has no light but the light of Christ, and by believing we no longer walk in darkness. Here we see how important it is that each Christian take on their role in the mission of the Church. When our Lord calls to someone lost in the darkness it may just be that it’s through you that the Light of Christ shines upon them. In these troubled times, it may seem as though Christ’s light is growing dim. This is not the case. It may be the case that the Light of Christ which is reflected by the Church has gotten a bit dimmer, as it has at various points in the past, because the Church has been tarnished. In this great feast of the Epiphany, let us follow Christ our Light, renew our commitment to living the Christian life in virtue and holiness, pray for the victims of abuse, and work for justice. May we do penance so that the tarnish is polished away that’s Christ’s light may shine brighter than ever before and may we, like the magi, seek out the living God bringing Him our gifts and fall down in adoration. And as we travel toward our heavenly homeland, let us go by another way-the way of holiness, and not by the way we came, which was the way of sin.