Last week we celebrated the Epiphany – the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles – to the world. Jesus, the Son of God was revealed; people saw and believed. We were invited to consider how we will respond to that revelation. Will anything change in the way we act?
In our daily liturgies this week, each of the Gospels revealed a slightly different aspect of Jesus – his person and his ministry. We saw him as the promised one, healer, provider, teacher, Lord of all creation, and a person of prayer.
Today, in our reading from the prophet Isaiah God speaks of the Messiah, the one who is to come. He speaks of how he will provide for his people, he will be a leader for all people, of how we ought to seek him out, of how we should expect that his manner of being and doing is different from ours and of how we should expect results. The Messiah will achieve what he has come to do.
In the Gospel Mark gives us his account of the Baptism of Jesus. He tells us that John the Baptist has been at work as a prophet – calling the people of Israel to repentance, preparing them for the Messiah and baptizing them with water. Mark tells us that Jesus comes and is baptized by John and as he is coming up out of the water he is revealed as the Beloved, Son of God and the Holy Spirit rests upon him.
In our second reading from John’s first letter, the early Christian community is reminded of the life of Jesus and what it means; essentially, you are loved by God. The author tells the early Christians, because you are loved by God unconditionally, you ought to believe in Jesus and you ought to obey God. Obeying God means that they love others and that they take to heart all the evidence that God has given them regarding the identity of Jesus. Believing in Jesus will give them power and strength.
As 2021 begins we continue to struggle with the presence of the virus in our world, we continue to see violence around the world, we continue to witness people who lie, spreading misinformation for their own power and well-being, we witness the anger and the violence that comes from people who believe the lies, we witness a double standard – those who have power and those who do not., those who are white and those who are not, those who are rich and those who are not. We continue to witness the effects of global warming - significant changes in our weather patterns – Spain is experiencing snow this weekend, in amounts never seen before. We continue to witness a loss of jobs and we witness people doing what they want, totally disregarding the common good. We witness the ongoing disrespect of people who are different – racism and prejudice are alive and well in Canada and around the world.
On the one hand, these events are rather discouraging and we could lose hope. If we continue to take a long loving look at the real we find also much goodness. People making sacrifices to keep others safe, people being generous – giving even from what they need, people reaching across boundaries to care for others. There is much love in our world, in our parish and in our local community.
It is our belief that into the wonder and chaos that is our world at this moment, it is our belief that Jesus Christ comes. We believe that he touches our lives – he touches us. Because of our belief we say no to lies and misinformation. We refuse to follow people who are all about power and money. We look for ways to improve the lives of all people and not only those who are like us. Rather than blaming people for the situation they are in, we look for ways to lift people up. Christ came into the world not because everything was going well, he came into the world because there was chaos, darkness and struggle. Christ came into the world historically to save us.
Often times we as Christians try to create this little world where everything is wonderful and we try to keep out anyone who does not get in line. We busy ourselves with judging and excluding, we busy ourselves with making our lives better even if it hurts someone else, even if it destroys creation. We are called to be like Jesus, to do what he has done. Those of us gathered here physically, (those praying with us virtually) we believe in Jesus and we believe in our mission to be a loving, life giving presence in our world.
Because of our relationship with Jesus we have a power that we often forget we have – we are loved. When we realize we are loved we can do amazing things. When we realize we are loved we become super heroes and we share that love with others – we spend our lives for others.
Every time I baptize a baby I am amazed and impressed at the commitment the parents take on when they choose to have children. Those of you who have children, you know that you literally spend your life for them – you give yourself over and over and over again. You make sacrifices so that they might succeed, so that they might achieve their dreams.
Today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we receive the gift of our God – Jesus Christ. Today, we remember the powerful and transforming love that God has for Jesus, that Jesus has for us. When Christ came to earth God made a statement. God said to us, you are worth my very life, you are a part of me. Because we are loved, because we belong to God, because we are baptized, we are called to do what Christ has done – choose love, choose life for ourselves and for every person we meet.
As we walk away from this celebration of life, from this time of prayer, we look for ways to be a light in the darkness. God made a promise, Jesus made that promise real, John the Baptist recognized that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Today it is our turn!
The word epiphany in the Miriam Webster Dictionary is defined as:
- a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
- an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
- an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
- a revealing scene or moment
That is what we celebrate today – Jesus is made visible to the Gentiles – those who were not a part of the chosen people finally see and understand that this is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is real. God has come to earth. These folks see and understand!
In the first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet tells the people of Israel, ‘stand up and be proud because there is a light among you. The darkness is beginning to diminish and people will be coming to you – your sons and daughters are coming home. As your sons and daughters come home from exile you will become more and more who you are meant to be. They will come home and others will follow bringing great gifts.’
In the Gospel, Matthew gives his account of what happens after the birth of Jesus. The Gentiles, people from the East, hear that the King of the Jews has been born and they want to pay him homage. King Herod hears of this and is concerned. He wants to know where the King of the Jews will be born and so he consults the Jewish leaders. He learns that the King of the Jews is to be born in Bethlehem. He encourages the wise men to go in search of this King and when they find him, bring news back to him.
What is interesting is that the Jewish leaders do nothing to check out this possible King. It is the wise men, the Gentiles who seek the King. Matthew tells us that they follow the star and they find Mary and the child. The wise men offer this ‘Child-King’ gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. A dream warns them about the real intent of King Herod. and so they head home via a different route.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds the early Christians of the extraordinary act of God that resulted in the birth of Jesus. He reminds them that they have heard of Jesus because of God’s grace given to him; given so that he might proclaim this news to the Gentiles.
In Sacred Scripture we often see characters who appear to be deeply religious, from all external signs, failing to recognize God and/or to do what God asks of them. The readings tell us that it is God’s intent to reach out to the People of Israel and to encourage, guide, lead, inspire, support, and direct his people by sending them a Messiah – his Son.
What is striking in both the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew is that the leaders of the People of Israel – the scribes, the Pharisees, the priests fail to recognize and respond to the news of the Savior’s birth. The elderly, the shepherds and the Gentiles recognize who Jesus is and the role he is to play in the story of salvation. As we continue to read the gospels we will discover that Jesus is often in conflict with the leaders, the wise and the learned, the rich, and the powerful. It seems as if they cannot hear his message, they cannot recognize what God is doing.
How is it that the more powerful we become, the more learned we are, the more influential we are, the greater our wealth, how is it that we are unable to see God and what God wants of us? How is it that the poor, the outsiders, those who are marginalized hear the message, pay attention and seek the Lord.
Today, with the feast of the Epiphany, we are given a wake-up call. Those of us who are outwardly religious – who are engaged in the regular ritual life of the Church, people like me, priests, people who teach and who profess to know lots of things about the faith, are invited to pause and reflect on who we are and how we are.
Is the gospel we live and speak of, the same as the gospel that Jesus proclaimed with his words and with his life or do we pick and choose the parts we like?
Where do we look for Christ? Do we look for Christ among the well dressed, the rich, and the powerful?
Are we able to recognize the Christ who is present in our midst?
Do we align ourselves with those folks – political leaders and organizations who are determined to have more power, more money for themselves and their friends or are we looking to heal broken relationships, dysfunctional systems, and those who are poor and marginalized?
Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany we are given evidence that God loves us, that he has come into our world to be with us and to walk with us? When Mary hears this news, we are told she treasures this news in her heart and she ponders the meaning of it.
Today sacred scripture reminds us that God has been revealed to us. What will we do with the evidence? Perhaps we can take a page from Mary’s life story. Perhaps we can pause and look for Christ in our world.
Perhaps we can think about what his presence means for the choices we make, the things we do!
Perhaps his presence can lead us to change the things we say and the things we do so that we become more and more like him!
Today the Church invites us to hold in our hearts and minds the feast of Mary, Mother of God, the World Day of Prayer for Peace while we are fascinated with the first day of the New Year!
In the book of Numbers, we hear the Lord asking Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons to bless the people of Israel. Why? So that the world might see them as God’s very own children. The blessing includes the revelation of God’s face, God’s graciousness and God’s peace.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, the Shepherds arrive with good news. Most of the people who hear the news are amazed but Mary has a different response, a unique response. When Mary receives the news, Luke tells us that she treasures and ponders it in her heart. As the shepherds return home, they praise God for all that God has done. The reading concludes with the news that Jesus is to be circumcised and named according to the directions given by Gabriel before the child was even conceived. God has once again taken the long view!
In the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Galatia, St. Paul reminds them that God has sent his son Jesus into the world as one like us so as to redeem us and welcome us as adopted sons and daughters of God. That is pretty amazing in itself but Paul goes on to tell the Galatians, you have also received the Spirit so that you can speak to God as an authentic child and not a slave. You can speak to God as your Father/Mother! Imagine after years of being told you are a slave, someone comes and says you are a child of God and you can speak to God as you would speak to your father or your mother. The people of Galatia were in shock!
Mary is presented today as the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. This is a big deal. Mary plays a key role in the story of our salvation. Through God’s grace she said yes to God; she, a virgin, became pregnant and became Mother of God. The impossible became possible. When we observe Mary, we can see what happens when we say yes to God.
The readings remind us that we belong to God – we are God’s children and as such there is a relationship between us and God. We are not forced into this relationship; God invites us into relationship. We are free to say yes or no! God cannot say no! God, full of mercy and compassion, is committed to helping us to be fully human, fully alive – brothers and sisters. In Jesus, God has come to us to remind us of who we are! God does not hide from us but reveals his face, his dreams and hopes for us!
Today is special because in addition to being the Feast of Mary, Mother of God it is the World Day of Prayer for Peace. In his message Pope Francis picks up on the idea that our God is a God who is committed to us. Pope Francis suggests that God cares about us and when we care about one another, when we recognize our responsibility for each other, we create the context for peace.
Pope Francis begins his message to us with a reflection on sacred scripture – the story of creation. He writes in reference to the story of Creation, the story of Adam and Eve, that we are all connected. He suggests that today we are becoming more aware of our connectedness and our interconnectedness.
He goes on to write that “Sacred Scripture presents God not only as Creator, but also as one who cares for his creatures, especially Adam, Eve and their offspring. Albeit cursed for the crime he committed, Cain was given a mark of protection by the Creator, so that his life could be spared (cf. Gen 4:15). While confirming the inviolable dignity of the person created in God’s image and likeness, this was also a sign of God’s plan to preserve the harmony of his creation, since “peace and violence cannot dwell together”.”
In other words, God cares about what happens to us. Despite Cain’s behavior God loves him and wants him to flourish well!
Pope Francis says that, “Care for creation was at the heart of the institution of the Sabbath, which, in addition to ordering divine worship, aimed at the restoration of the social order and concern for the poor (cf. Gen 1:1-3; Lev 25:4). The celebration of the Jubilee every seventh sabbatical year provided a respite for the land, for slaves and for those in debt. In that year of grace, those in greatest need were cared for and given a new chance in life, so that there would be no poor among the people (cf. Deut 15:4).
In the prophetic tradition, the biblical understanding of justice found its highest expression in the way a community treats its weakest members. Amos (cf. 2:6-8; 8) and Isaiah (cf. 58), in particular, insistently demand justice for the poor, who, in their vulnerability and powerlessness, cry out and are heard by God, who watches over them (cf. Ps 34:7; 113:7-8).”
God is vitally interested in our well-being. God has his eye on the poor and he repeatedly calls his People, the People of Israel to be attentive to the poor! God cares about what happens to his People.
Jesus, the Son of God, personifies what caring looks like in his ministry. Francis says, “At the culmination of his mission, Jesus gave the ultimate proof of his care for us by offering himself on the cross to set us free from the slavery of sin and death. By the sacrificial gift of his life, he opened for us the path of love. To each of us he says, “Follow me; go and do likewise” (cf. Lk 10:37).”
As followers of Jesus we must care for one another. We must safeguard the dignity of each person. Francis says we have the responsibility to care for each person – especially the poor, the sick and the excluded. This duty flows from the fact that we are cared for and loved by our God, that our God is a God who cares and we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Francis suggests that there can be no peace unless we nurture a culture of care. He acknowledges that it is not easy. He suggests that we look to the life of Mary who is for us, both a model and a source of hope.
“May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, “to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another”.”
Today as we celebrate Mary as Mother of God and as we pray for peace let us pause and know that our God blesses us. As the New Year unfolds let us extend a blessing to every person we meet thus creating for all people the context of peace. When we do this the face of God is made visible here and now!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI