EPIPHANY JANUARY 5, 2013
The Gospel tells a story we all love - which is so much at the heart of the overall
- when 3 magi - sometimes we call them kings - come and lie right down on the floor
- and bring out lavish gifts for our new-born King. The story is so etched into our
faith tradition that this is the day when many of the world's Christians actually
exchange gifts. That's certainly true of many Orthodox Christians. The people of
Sicily and some nations along the Mediterranean Sea do this. In the countries of
Northern Europe - gifts brought by Santa arrive on Christmas Day but there
are smaller gifts that people give to one another on each of the 12 days of Christmas
- the most important of them given on this Feast of the Epiphany.
At its center our feast is a celebration that all the peoples of the world - represented
by the Magi - come and will come - at last - to pay tribute to Christ.
Isaiah proclaims this majestically - as he describes the giant processions of the
nations - coming to Israel - because the glory of God shines on Jerusalem.
"Your heart shall throb and overflow and be radiant at what you see."
The psalm proclaims: "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you."
And, St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "the Gentiles - non-Jews - are copartners in
Christ." No one is excluded.
The three readings tell the story of people of all faiths who come to worship Jesus -
and it does so without the least put-down of any other religion.
In fact, we know that there is much good and a great deal of beauty in the major
religious traditions of the world. There are many points of contact where we share
the truth with those religions.
There's great beauty in Judaism, in Islam, in Buddhism, in Hinduism. But the thing
that most distinguishes us from those religious traditions is that Jesus - the Son of
God - is the culmination of the all promises of God.
The Gospel speaks of the Magi, official outsiders, with the greatest respect. There
are no hints of condescension here. Yet, there's something compellingly beautiful
as these foreigners are drawn out of their own country - lured there by Christ.
They're not coerced into coming to Christ. They come because they know
something truly amazing has happened in Israel.
What this teaches is that all religions are destined, ultimately, to find their true home
in Christ. We're all destined to bring our treasure to Christ because of the
uniqueness of the birth of God's Son. We often hear it said today that all religions
are the same. Since we don't want to offend anyone
we often let that go unanswered. But belief in Christ is unique. It's distinctive. Jesus
becomes one of us to save all of us. The journey of the Magi demonstrate this. But
God often teaches us - through encounters with those who are different from us -
that divine mercy is offered to all. Through the foreigner, the outcast, the sinner -
Christ often showed us God's mercy. Just look to the scriptures.
Remember the faith of a Roman soldier - an official pagan - when his servant was
dying. He humbly goes to Jesus and his great faith prompts Jesus to heal the man.
The soldier says, “You don't have to come to my house. Just say the word and it will
be done.” A local adulteress washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with
her hair. For such devotion her sins are forgiven...while the religious leader in
whose home this takes place, stands indignant.
Jesus calls Zaccheus - the hated tax collector - down from the tree. Jesus wants to
dine with him. And while the man gives his money back to the poor, the self-
righteous leaders scoff. Another Roman soldier - another official pagan - takes a
lance and pierces Christ's side while on the cross. Seeing Christ is dead, the soldier
is the first one to say, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”
The Gospels are the stories of all kinds of religious seekers, foreigners, outcasts,
sinners, people who are different - all of whom are saved by the unique Son of God.
Those we sometimes think are hopeless, unworthy, not good enough, different - are
good enough to teach us the glorious mystery of God's love for all that nations.
We can learn so much from people outside the Church.
And we can learn much from the perceived outsider - inside the Church.
One of my favorite descriptions of the Church comes from literature. From James
Joyce - the Irish playwright. In Finnegan's Wake he defines the Church as "Here
In those words, we can picture the motley crowd that we are:
- the rich - the poor
- the baby that sometimes makes it hard to hear - as well as the hard of hearing
- white - black - yellow
- the educated - the unlettered
- city-dweller - the rural farmer
- those who have a good sense of who they are - and those confused.
“Here comes everybody!” Everybody belongs!
Christ came to bring salvation to all!
He came for everyone here and everyone not here.
The Epiphany and all the rest tell the same truth over and over. And, we must go to
him - bearing our gifts.
The magi came bearing gifts for a king - gold, frankincense and myrhh.
What can we bring? Give God your heart. It's the only gift He wants.