Jan 3, 2015

The Epiphany of the Lord: Our spiritual DNA

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

Last August I went to the Ancestry.com website and decided to find more information on how to test for your DNA in order to learn more of my genetic lineage. So, I found it was easy, sent for the kit and after I received it I completed the simple process, sent off the sample and waited.  About six weeks later I got the results with an appropriate chart and analysis.  I really didn’t discover anything that I didn’t already suspect since all four of my grandparents were from the same eastern European country, Lithuania but it was interesting to see the results in print. 

I learned that my DNA is 100% European of which 96% is east European with a 4% combination of Finland and Russia.  In one sense, not exactly exciting since I wondered if maybe there would be some surprise match that we never heard of:  Irish?  Italian?  German? Chinese? That would have been a huge surprise for sure. 

I am sure the DNA test has been used by thousands or maybe even millions of others like myself.  We have a fascination to know where we came from and consequently where we might go to learn more. What is our background, what cultural ties have held us together or what our behavioral characteristics may reveal about our families or ourselves?   

Most of that is of course genetic and written into the code of our complex DNA along with our life experience and parental guidance.  But what about our spiritual DNA?  Is there such a spiritual genetic code that would influence our prayer life or make some more spiritual than others?  Are Italians more spiritual than Mexicans?  Are those of Native American ancestry more spiritual than Africans or Asians?  

Not exactly yet today’s Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord and the sign of the Magi who unexpectedly arrive in Jerusalem in search of the “new born King of the Jews” reveals something about our spiritual DNA. If our genetic code links us to our ancestors then today’s Feast connects us to millions before us.

In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we hear:  “. . . the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3: 6). The light which shined in the sky and guided the Magi to Bethlehem is a sign of our link, our spiritual connection to the promised one of Israel born in Bethlehem.  The Magi who come from the non-Jewish world to recognize this child as greater than themselves and their ways of searching for truth are the connection we have to the very seeds of our faith. 

In God’s mysterious plan for humanity, gradually revealed over time, we see today’s Epiphany as a moment to look on those who came before us and through them we can trace back in time our spiritual connection to the very birth of Christ and the first to hear the good news, our Jewish brothers and sisters. We among the Gentiles are the present day Magi who came later but still

recognized a benefit from adoring this child, the God/Man among us.  Like family ancestors before us in our individual genetic links, the Magi are a sign which connects us to Christ and his good news which has been embraced since nearly the beginning by the Gentile world. 

There is speculation about who these men really were.  Did such Magi really exist and what about that “star?”  Was it just an alignment of planets which happened to occur at the time of Jesus’ birth?  Were they only men who traveled? Where were they from? 

Scripture scholars, astronomers and historians can answer those questions in fascinating ways.  Yet, today’s Feast is a spiritual one for us all for though it may have been a star which led them only faith was the force that made them recognize the Christ child for who he was. Their faith is symbolic of what ours must be as well. 

At the end of today’s Gospel we learn the Magi after being warned in a dream about Herod’s true intentions, “departed for their country by another way.”  (Mt. 2: 12).

The call to tell others is rightly implied by the cast of Christmas. Having come to recognize this child as the greater King we could only speculate what stories they might have told in their homeland.  By the same token, what about those shepherds?  What sort of report did they give to their fellow sheep herders and others?  That’s a part of the Gospel hidden from us and some theories have been proposed.  Who do we see? If we have come to know Jesus and his Church, maybe in a fresh way this Christmas season, where do we go?  

Once the Magi in faith were moved to see the truth before them they continued their journey, changed with a new direction.  We can imagine this new way as a kind of conversion.  We too, who have come to know the Christ are called to journey with others along a new way of life; a new direction that leaves the old behind and embraces something new. 

It is the mission of the Church, Christ’s Body, and as those who are coheirs to the Gospel, who have inherited that spiritual DNA. We are privileged as we hear at the end of each Mass to “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

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 Feast)