Jan 7, 2012

The two Epiphanies

"Rise up in splendor Jerusalem, your light has come!" (Is 60: 1)

I remember very well an experience I had as a young associate pastor around the Feast of the Epiphany.  I was preparing to celebrate Mass for our school children when suddenly three girls walked in dressed in royal garb.  I was a bit taken aback since I naively assumed that three of the older boys would portray the Magi.  So, I looked at the girls who were all smiles with a bit of 8th grade silliness and I asked them, "Are you the three Kings?"  With a straight face and a voice of conviction one girl said, "No Father. We're the three wise persons!" I just let it go.  It was more important that we celebrate this beautiful Feast than try and make a political statement. The Magi represent all of us for it is a feast filled with rich symbols. 
A new star in the heavens, a prophecy for Bethlehem, a mother and child, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, the voice of conviction from a strange Baptist in the wilderness of Judea, water which washes away sinfulness, an apparition of the Holy Spirit as a dove, a voice from the heavens, and Jesus the Lamb of God. All of them can be called “epiphanies.”
What or Who do they point to?  To one person and one only – Jesus of Nazareth, the fleshed Word of God who has inserted himself in human history and forever made his home among us.

This Sunday we close our Christmas season with the beloved Feast of the Magi – Epiphany.  As that Greek word implies a revelation of something new and a new understanding, all of the above – the star, the prophecy, a mother and child, and the three gifts given are all signs which point only one way – to Christ himself.  All of these uncover and convince the magi that this child was the fulfillment of their journey. Each one of them in their own way are little “epiphanies” that reveal Christ to the world.

Guido Reni: The Baptism of the Lord

But our second epiphany happens thirty years later in the Baptism of the Lord, this year celebrated the day after Epiphany – on Monday, Jan 9.  As Jesus presented himself to John for baptism, John sees in him a further revelation, an epiphany of sorts, and knows that this man, nearly the same age as John, is the true Lamb of God; the one who will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The image of a dove, a Divine voice heard from heaven confirm what John suspected.  Here Christ is once more revealed to the world, he is shown forth in a new epiphany, that he is truly the hope of all peoples.

As we close the Christmas mystery our liturgical year is designed to keep us looking forward – from the manger to the waters of the Jordan and beyond. Whether it was the magi or John the Baptist, both revelations or epiphanies brought them to know the Christ and to respond with enthusiasm to share what they saw and heard.  We know this as we read the Scriptures in which their experience becomes our call as well.

What are the signs today that point the way to Christ? We live in a very different world than ancient peoples.  Science and technology, history and the development of cultures over the last 2,000 years have dramatically changed the human experience and our own expectations about the meaning of life and how we live.

But, the community of the Church, the Body of Christ among us, remains the shining star that points the way to Christ and his good news of salvation for all. The Sacraments are the signs of Jesus’ ministry among us continuing what he began: healing, forgiveness, freedom from the slavery of sin, a moral framework that is based in absolute truths, a social order between humanity and the world around us that is based in the dignity of each human life, an inclusiveness of language and culture in liturgy and prayer, a unity of teaching that offers clear direction, and the lived experience of our faith in the security of a community of charity. 

We aren't perfect and even the magi left due to the danger of Herod’s threat.  Jesus’ baptism led him not to wealth and fame but out to the desert to wrestle with the power of evil and ultimately to the Cross.  The Church remains the Body of Christ, sometimes shining with virtue and other times wounded by sinfulness but it’s where we go to find life and respite in a world that can only offer temporary fulfillment.  Finding a balance between the sacred and the secular is the story of our lives.

The Church is greater than any one Pope or Bishop and stronger than any Priest. Yet around Peter do we gather with the Apostles and presbyters at the Eucharistic table to share in the life of our Savior.  Together as God’s people we can all unite as a shining star to continually point to where Christ can be found.  

Let’s be an epiphany to others.  A way to uncover and reveal by the example of our lives that this God/Man is indeed the hope of all ages and remains alive and present in our midst. 
It’s a tall order for any of us but we are not alone in that challenge.  The Holy Spirit remains in our midst and ultimately is the one who will bring about God’s intent.

O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.  

(Collect for Epiphany)