January 6, 2007


Happy Epiphany, everyone. Here's my homily for this weekend:

And so, friends, we come to the climax of this Christmas season with today’s great feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, reigns from his mother’s arms and is revealed to the Magi who have come from the east in search of the newborn king. In them the great drama of the Christian religion gets underway as Jesus begins to be revealed to all the nations and peoples of the world.

See the sublime humility of our God! At the beginning and at the end of his human life, Jesus reveals most clearly what sort of God we have. In the manger God is revealed as the powerless and dependent infant, and on the Cross God is revealed as the executed criminal who can’t even move his hands and feet.

This is the true revelation of the almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth, revealed in the little and the despised and the powerless. To understand this mystery, and better, to love it, requires a wisdom that only the Spirit of God can give us. This is the wisdom that the Magi were seeking—that is why we call them the “wise men.”

These men who were wise and learned, and rich I might add, bow before this little baby, because they have an inkling of the wisdom of God that knows God is revealed in such a special way.

They bring him gold, the riches that are fit for a newborn king. They bring him frankincense, because he is worthy of the worship due to the Lord of heaven and earth, to whom our prayers must rise like incense. And they bring him the burial spice myrrh, pointing to the destiny of his life on earth, of the death on the Cross that he will suffer for each and every one of us.

In the parish I belonged to before I was here they had an Epiphany banner that read, “The wise still seek Him.” And, with God’s help, that’s us. But we must pray for the wisdom to know where to seek God. This is not the wisdom of this world, the wisdom of those who are clever with words or money or with manipulating public opinion. God’s wisdom is a secret, hidden wisdom, and we must pray for it.

With it we can learn to seek the living God through the Nativity, in the innocence and powerlessness of the infant, and in the Cross, in the suffering love and worldly condemnation that comes to those who desire love and righteousness more than safety and security.

But, as we celebrate the beginning of this New Year with such good news, we know that the world is full of bad news. It seems harder and harder to discern a way out of the tragedy of Iraq while more and more of our young people die each day, not to speak of the local loss of life and structure and culture. New wars spring up all on the troubled African continent. Bizarre weather and natural disasters threaten poor folks everywhere. Everyone lives in either the imagined or real fear of terrorism, and the AIDS pandemic threatens to leave whole generations of orphans in some places.

So the words of the prophet Isaiah ring true today when he says that “darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” This veil, this darkness that covers the nations of the world is the ignorance of God and unwillingness to be humble enough to accept God’s love. And we are all implicated in this guilt!

It is because we continue to nourish and indulge bitterness and disdain in our own hearts and minds that these evil thoughts break out into the wars that injure and scar the world. We’re not at fault for bad weather and natural disasters, but we are for not following the constant Biblical command to take care of the poor. And because the poor have not been helped, lacking security and sturdy housing, they are that much more susceptible to the misfortunes that nature brings.

And yet, within this depressing situation, an unstoppable and indestructible hope has been growing from within the history of the world. It begins when God calls Abraham to leave home and travel to a land that God promises to show him. It continues when God commands the Hebrews to leave the slavery of Egypt, and, as they cross the Red Sea, God creates out of them a holy nation, the people of Israel. God promises that he will always be with his people Israel, in his holy presence and kindness and faithfulness.

In the Incarnate Word, the newborn king, in Jesus who is called the Christ, the promises made to Israel become available to the whole word! The Magi from the east who adore the infant Jesus today are the first of many brothers and sisters, of gentiles from all over the world who have become children of Abraham by adoption.

In them, we might happily see ourselves. As those who have become heirs of the promises made to Israel by the gracious adoption of God in Christ, The magi are our ancestors in the faith. Through Christ all the graces and favors of God’s holy people Israel become our own: the liberation of the Exodus, the vocation and holy words of the prophets, the favor of being God’s holy nation, a people set apart. Indeed, as Jesus himself says, “salvation is from the Jews.”

Let us then not despair amid the wars and confusion and sufferings of this world, but let us, like the Magi, follow the star to Jesus. The star is prayer, and the astrology we will use to follow it is the holy Wisdom only prayer can give.

Then let us adore the infant Jesus, through whom all of the promises of God become our own, so that we, as the Letter to the Ephesians says today, might become “coheirs,” members of his body, and “copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”

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