Epiphany: Encounter with Jesus in faith and good works

Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany year C

(January 6,2013)

Introduction: The First Reading, Isaiah tells us: The light has come.

          The Second Reading, Paul notes: This light is Jesus Christ, the revealer of the mystery of God.

          The Gospel, Matthew tells us: This light is for everyone. It is shining for all the world.

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany which is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. (CCC 528). So in our gospel today we  hear of the visit and the adoration of Jesus by the wise men from the east. They saw the star as it rose. They studied it and found that it points to something deeper and important in fact it is directing them to someone special. So they followed it until it ‘halted over the place where the child was.’ Matthew wrote this gospel to instruct the people then and for us now, that Jesus is not just the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, but that He is at the same time the Messiah of all peoples, the saviour of the world. St Paul in our Second Reading today would affirm this when he wrote of the revelation of the mystery of God given to him. In his letter to Ephesians, Paul notes that this ‘mystery’ “means pagans now share the same inheritance…parts of the same body…and that the same promise has been made to them, in Christ Jesus…(Eph 3:2-3, 5-6).

The visit of the wise men speaks so much of this universal mission of Jesus to save. It is part of God’s plan that everyone hears of his saving plan for the world in Jesus Christ. The wise men had this inner longing in their hearts to search for God, so they set out to search the child until they found him. Not only that, they  also gave him gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh. (Mt:2:1-12). According to some scriptural interpretation and tradition, the gifts of the Magi signify the humanity, the divinity and the kingship of Jesus. Mark Link, Jesuit has an interesting summary of the meaning of these gifts of the magi to the newborn child. Link noted that the “three gifts of the magi can be interpreted to reveal three truths about Jesus. First, the myrrh symbolizes the humanity of Jesus [for Myrrh later on would be used for his burial]. Second, the frankincense symbolizes the divinity of Jesus [for incense is usually used in the temple rituals, worship and adoration to God]. Third, the gold symbolizes the kingship of Jesus. Jesus came among us to lead us, to inspire us, to invite us to join him in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth- a kingdom of love, and kingdom of peace, a kingdom of hope.”[1]

But what does the Solemnity of the Epiphany teach us?

It teaches us three things: First, it tells us about the importance of upholding our faith. The faith (i.e. God’s initial invitation) of the wise men empowers them to search out for the God-became-man, despite the uncertainty of their journey. Their faith gives them courage not to do what Herod wants them to do but rather to go back to their own country via another route. In other words, their visit to the child Jesus  became their turning point and the confirmation of their faith, their point of conversion.

Like the magi, let’s keep up with our faith despite the uncertainty of our situations, despite the apparent trials, challenges, the problems that we as a Church are facing at the moment. The magi might have lost track of the star at times but they went on. So also are we. There might be times in our life that we feel so dry, so drained, so empty, just nothing, or even at times we feel faith doesn’t make sense anymore. But despite all these we are to keep up walking in faith and with faith in God. We remind ourselves always that over and above the thick clouds of doubt and uncertainties, there is always a clear blue sky.

The second thing that epiphany teaches us is that no matter who we are, what tribe  do we come from, what language do we speak, how little we think we might be and can do, we are all one and important in God. We are all gifts to one another. Henry Ward Beecher had a nice way of putting this. He wrote: ‎”God appoints our graces to be nurses to other men’s [and women’s] weaknesses.”

I liked this quote very much that I posted it on my Facebook wall and added my own comment. In there I wrote:  “No wonder I haven’t got everything. But I have got something that others don’t. And others have something that I don’t have…so to get the best of everything, let’s share our blessings...”

Let us take care of one another then because even though we might have different skin colour, different language, different cultural upbringing, or different in many ways, yet we are all called and invited by the same God. We are all coming from one source of life, that is God. And this same God is the one who came into the world to lead us into the way of Life. This God is calling us to share and celebrate life with one another. And we must not take this for granted. See, this same God in Jesus invites Herod and the scribes yet they didn’t let go of their securities. Herod considered him as a threat to his security, power and political influence. Herod missed the call to be one with God, because he was too preoccupied with his own self-interest. This feast of Epiphany is therefore calling us to be like God in reaching out to different individuals and valuing each other regardless of skin, intellect, talent and years (Diversity).

The third thing that the feast of the Epiphany reminds us about is that this is also our encounter with Jesus – an encounter that calls us to faith. It is the  faith of the wise men that empowered them and made them courageous to go back on a different route. It is  their faith that encourages them to walk on the way of conversion. Conversion here means an ongoing process, not a one-off thing, or an overnight project. Conversion means walking with God and having a real, personal and living relationship with our Jesus our God. Everyday we are all invited to walk on this path of conversion. How? Here are few practical tips: Daily reflection on the word of God in the Scriptures, regular attendance of the Holy Mass, Praying constantly (devotional and personal), doing works for the good of others, doing works that we love doing for our good, talking with someone who is living alone, going out with good friends, etc. Conversion is allowing God to be part and parcel of our life in all aspects.

So as we continue our celebration of the Epiphany, let’s thank God for creating this encounter with him. At the same time, let us resolve to keep up with our faith by walking on the way of conversion through the little things, yet heartfelt and motivated by love, we can do for ourselves, for others and for God. Let this be our resolution, our prayer and our reflection.

[1] Mark Link, S.J., Experiencing Jesus: His Story (Texas: Argus Communications, 1984), 81-82.

Star: the Sign to Jesus

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.