Homily for Epiphany 2012
A couple of months ago, I read an article in the news of a Filipino man who idolized Superman so much that he not only wear superman costumes or collect superman stuff but he really underwent a surgery to look like Superman himself. I said to myself: ‘This man is really gone over the top. He considers Superman as his ideal self maybe, his model, or his only ‘star’ that he looked up to so highly. Yet he couldn’t be contented with just looking at his ‘star’. He wanted to identify himself completely with his ‘star.’ He wanted to look like superman himself so he braved the pain of the knife just to become someone he is not. I am very sorry for him. He was caught up with his fantasy – his star who is not even real at all.
Friends, it is not bad if we look up to certain people as our ‘idol’, ‘model’ or ‘star’. They can serve as our inspiration in life. But if we identify with them completely, we lose our sanity. We cannot just become who we are not. Even if we have everything that our idol has or we follow everything that our model does, we can’t really become like our model. Our ‘star’ is supposed to be our guide, our example, our ‘ideal self’ if you like. But they are just to serve us as a sign of a greater reality. We like our stars for instance because he or she is a successful celebrity, a popular sportsman, a wealthy businessman or an influential public figure. But even then they are just signs pointing to us that there is more to life, that we can enjoy life if we really work on it. And we know this because if we just look at them all the time on the TV, without doing anything, of course we are in no way getting nearer to our ‘star’.
Today’s the solemnity of the Epiphany is a great reminder for us not to identify ourselves with the sign or not to stop on the sign. We heard in the gospel that the wise men, though they followed the star, didn’t try to identify with it. They have understood that the star was pointing to something greater, in fact to someone special. They realized that there is more to the star than it looks. So when the star or the sign stopped over the place where the Child Jesus was, they were overjoyed because they know that they are about to see the reality behind the special star. And true indeed, they were satisfied. Their long trip paid off. They saw the ‘infant king of the Jews’. They worshipped him and offered their gifts to him. The Fathers of the Church would make significance of the gifts of the magi to Child Jesus. The Gold is for God as King, the Frankincense is for the Divinity of God and the Myrrh for his humanity (particularly for his burial).
But what does Epiphany mean for us now?
To understand this is to look at the wise men or the magis as our ‘star’, our sign. How?
The wise men represent the rest of the world to whom God has manifested himself as a human being. The story says they came from the East. Legend also says that the wise men are actually symbolizing the three continents that have existed in Jesus’ time: Africa, Asia and Europe. Epiphany therefore means that God has not only come to live with us, but also to show us that his saving love is for everyone. He comes as the ‘light of the nations’ as we hear from the prophet Isaiah in our First Reading today. He is the Lord towards whom every nation on earth will worship as we say in the Responsorial Psalm. He is the inheritance even for the ‘pagans’ according to St Paul in our Second Reading. The solemnity of the Epiphany is God’s testimony to us that we are all worth saving, no matter who we are, no matter where we are. Epiphany reveals to us that though God has chosen to be born from the Jewish family, He is to be the Messiah, the Lord and Saviour for everyone. Thus, John Powell, a Jesuit Priest would tell us to ‘show in our face that we are saved’ because in fact it is for our salvation that Jesus Christ has come and revealed his presence to all nations.
But how can we express our being saved when we heard the almost 3,000 South Sudanese were killed in a tribal war? How can we show in our face that we are saved while thinking of all those people killed and families displaced by the flood in the Philippines? How can we speak of God’s salvation for everyone while hearing the bloody persecutions of Christians in Nigeria and in the Middle East?
Again these can be signs, and in fact these are signs of God’s presence. It seems ironic, but the gospels would attest to this. When God is apparently absent, it is where when He is absolutely present. The Gospels tell us that He identifies himself with the poor, the persecuted, the less fortunate, etc. These signs open for us the deeper reality of our humanity, that we are all one and equal in the eyes of God. This means then that we are to care for one another, that we are to help our sisters and brothers over there in whatever way we can. Epiphany is not only God revealing himself to us in the joyful mood but also in the sorrows of our needy sisters and brothers around the world. We not only meet God in our joys but more so in our sorrows. As Church gathered here today we are actually offering the best gift we can give to God today as the magis did. It is in our prayers for today’s solemnity that we are actually offering to God, Jesus Christ himself as our gift to him. We are offering Him in our Eucharist as the sacrificial victim, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And as we all know, sin abides in all aspects of our life today, in the society and in the system. We just have to look at the attitudes shown by the government to the Asylum seekers and for the fundamental meaning of marriage. Sin is obviously there. May this Eucharist strengthen and help us to reconcile with ourselves, with God and with one another.
So as we continue our celebration of the epiphany today: let’s pray that we can see God in all the signs of the times. We can only do this by not remaining on the sign but going beyond it. We can also understand the meaning of the signs of the times, if we let God be God in our lives and if we embrace who we really are and not trying to become who we are not. Let’s also pray that as Church we may become truly sign for all the world that God is not only revealing himself to us but that He really is with us. Amen.