Jan 4, 2014

The Epiphany - A Star is born!

(Adoration of the Magi - Rembrandt)
"They prostrated themselves and did him homage . . ."

Is 60: 1-6
Ep 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2: 1-12

We follow many stars in our modern world and among them, Hollywood movie stars and those in the music world. We have athletic sports stars and stars from political or military history.  Maybe your favorite television comedian or possibly even a 24 hr news star is someone your follow. We might have a favorite grandparent or aunt or uncle who is quite a star in our family. In the case of movie and sports personalities, we shower them with obscene amounts of money and public fame turning them into superhuman personalities with near idol worship.  I recall as a grade school student trying to comb my hair like President John Kennedy.  We do such things hoping that maybe some of their “stardom” will rub off on us. In the end, as much as we admire these stars, there is a greater Star and its light which we must recognize this Sunday.  

Although we come to the last week of our Christmas liturgical season this Epiphany weekend, light is still a predominant image.  In what sounds like our Christmas Mass at night, the first reading from Isaiah 60 speaks: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come the glory of the Lord shines upon you . . . upon you the Lord shines . . . Nations shall walk by your light . . . your shining radiance . . .” Our Christian hearts see Jesus as this shining light and his coming among us as a sign that God’s light of the world is brilliantly displayed before us. Put on your sunglasses! This beautiful reading is filled with a mood of joy and gratitude: “. . . your heart shall throb and overflow . . .” Isaiah reminds us. Yet, as the Magi encounter King Herod in the Gospel from Matthew 2, we find two curious contrasts.
The now two year old Jesus, who is God’s light among us, brings both awe and fear: One reaction from King Herod and the other from the wandering Magi in search of this new King. Herod fears this potential rival to his throne, supported by the prophecies of the Jewish scriptures read to him.  His power and position is on the line so he wants to destroy this King and maintain his ruthless rule over the people of Israel.

But the Magi come in faith, trusting in all the signs that tell them someone very special has been born; a person of royalty who deserves their homage.  They don’t want to destroy, they want to worship and faith is what motivates them to keep searching. They find themselves drawn to this light not repelled by it.
From the very beginning of his life on earth, Jesus’ presence creates controversy and calls us all to respond to his light. Do we fear the demands God makes upon us or do we embrace his call to conversion?  This child cannot be ignored and we have to respond.  The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, about the journey of the Magi, “Once you find Christ, you cannot go back the same way.”

The solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is about this true Star among us.  Jesus is the sign of God’s Word and calls us all into a love relationship with him and each other. In this way, the entire Christmas story is a love story. Here, the wandering magi recognized in a simple Jewish child and his Jewish mother what only God could have revealed to them.  Are we so eager to follow this Star?  Do we understand who this child, now the risen savior of the world, the true King of Kings, is for us and for all humanity?
God came first to the poor (shepherds) then he revealed himself to grander earthly powers as we see in the Magi who saw even in his simplicity, the truth of his greatness.  The Holy Eucharist is that moment when God comes to us in great humility – the gift of himself. As we approach him what gifts do we bring? It might be helpful when approaching the Eucharist to picture yourself on a journey – that of life of course.  Not with gold, frankincense and myrrh but with the stuff of your life.  If we lay down our lives before this King he will certainly carry it with us.

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 of Sunday)