Sunday, January 08, 2006

From the river to the ends of the earth

The lessons for the feast of the Epiphany are:

  • Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
  • Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
  • Matthew 2:1-12

We all like stories. The stories we tell about our lives and our faith reveal more than almost any amount of theological discussion. Scripture is largely a collection of stories, told by many different people in many different ways, that are all part of one great story, the story of God, how he loves his people, and how far he will go to save his people. The story today in the Gospel lesson is one of the very best, the story of the journey of the Magi to present gifts to the infant Jesus.

Now, one of the most popular kind of stories is a mystery story. The starting point is an event that is unexplained or secret in some important way, along with a person who really needs to find that explanation or discover that secret. We are hunters, problem solvers. We keenly follow the hero or heroine on their the hunt, as they face challenges and overcome obstacles. In taking us along on that journey, the best mystery stories reveal not only the secret, but something important about the characters and ourselves.

We, as people of faith, use the word mystery a lot. For example, it is one of the most used words in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I like this (from a chapter end summary): "God has revealed himself to man by gradually communicating his own mystery in deeds and in words." This kind of mystery story consists of the deeds and words where God reveals Himself to us in a way beyond our own natural reason. Unlike a detective story, this kind of mystery is not a secret that we can discover without help, or a puzzle that we can figure out on our own. It is God showing some part of His own self to us, explaining our own secret parts to us.

God revealing himself to us transforms how we see the world and ourselves. We call this kind of revealing that transfers how we see everything an epiphany.

In today's second lesson, St. Paul tells of such an epiphany, one that transformed how the People of God must view those previously seen as being completely outside of the community of God:

Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the
This is the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, the transforming revelation of the secret of who Christ is, that changes how everyone sees the world. The Gospel story that we read today is one of the most familiar and beloved: the journey of the three Magi seeking the infant Jesus. Herod provides suspense and intrigue -- the travelers from the distant East provide the color and taste of the exotic. It has been a part of countless pieces of art, movies, and even an opera. And what creche would be complete without the figures of the Three Wise Men, their gifts, and of course the camels they rode in on. A great story -- but what is revealed here?

Well, just what Paul was talking about. When we tell the story of the Magi, we are reminding ourselves that even while Jesus was the infant child of poor refugees he was recognized as king, high priest, and redeemer. And this recognition did not come from the religious leaders of the day, for they were nowhere to be found in the stable in Bethlehem. Herod, the political leader, wanted to protect his position by hunting down and killing this baby. Recognition came from the poor and outcast, and from representatives of the non-Jewish world, the gentiles. This revlelation, this epiphany, transforms our view of Jesus as the one promised to lead Israel alone to political freedom, to the one who will die redeem the entire earth, and rise again. We are no longer on the outside listening in, but part of the main story itself.

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