Saturday, January 5, 2008

In Epiphania Domini

(Epiphany of the Lord)

A simple question: How do we know anything about God? How do we know to have the encouragement of faith amidst all of the evil and difficulty of this word, what the prophet Isaiah calls the “darkness” that covers the peoples like “thick clouds”?

It’s because God is a God whose goodness overflows onto the earth and into our lives. God’s glory “shines” on us, as Isaiah goes on to say. This is what is meant by divine revelation, that the Divine Mystery makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ.

This revelation of the living God is a process that has been snowballing throughout human history. It started when God called Abraham. At that time it was just Abraham and his family who knew about the true God. Then there were the covenants with Jacob, with Moses, and with the great king David. This is the whole history of the Old Testament, when the living God was known by just one nation on earth, God’s beloved Israel.

But it has always been God’s desire to be known by all the earth, that, as the prophet Isaiah says, all nations should walk by the light of the Lord. And that’s what the celebration of the Lord’s Epiphany is all about. It is one thing for the Lord to be born unknown, of young parents in an obscure place. But today, with the visit of the magi, this newborn king begins to be revealed to the entire world.

The magi are the beginning of universal religion. They are the first gentile believers, and in that sense, are our spiritual ancestors. They are the beginning of the great commission that the Risen Lord will give, to go and make disciples of all nations.

And as our spiritual ancestors, the magi are models for us of how to live our religion. First of all, they are models for us in seeking the Lord. Their journey from the East is analogous to our journey of faith. They kept their attention fixed on the star and so found the newborn Lord. In the same way, we must keep our attention fixed on Jesus Christ. His light can lead through all the darknesses of our own hearts and of the world.

The gifts of the magi are models for us too. They bring him gold to show that they believe he is royalty, that he is the king of the Jews. In the same way we are called to offer our best to God, and to recognize Jesus Christ and his grace as the true riches we are to seek in this world.

The magi bring him frankincense, recognizing that this baby is the Incarnate God. Incense, after all, is for divine worship. We too are called to bring him the incense of our prayers, to worship God alone, and to reject all of the idols and false Gods this world offers us: money, power, security, convenience, nationalism…not to speak of vulgar celebrities and the various other inanities of our culture.

And finally, the magi bring the Lord the embalming ointment myrrh. In this they recognize the self-sacrificing God. They embrace the hard truth that the newborn king of the Jews is also the man who will suffer and die on the Cross with that same charge hanging above him, “The King of the Jews.” We too must approach the Lord, fully accepting that his is the way of the Cross and we as the Body of Christ are a crucified body. We are called, like the Lord, to give up the best of ourselves for each other.

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