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Posted by on Jan 7, 2024

Epiphany – Seeing God’s Presence Anew

Epiphany – Seeing God’s Presence Anew

Some years it’s easy to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord and hear the prophet’s words, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” (Is 60:1-6) This year, with war raging in the Middle East, it’s more challenging to hear these words and remember that they have both physical, political meaning and symbolic, religious meaning. Those meanings are not meant to be taken as equivalent.

Jerusalem in this context is not just a city in the Middle East. It is not just a city revered by members of three great faith traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The prophet Isaiah was speaking of a restored city, a center of life and faith for the Jewish people as they returned from exile. Yet even in this prophecy, Jerusalem is more than just a capital city. Jerusalem is the center from which God will rule the entire world. The city itself is shining in the glory of the Lord – a glory that shines in the darkness and attracts all to itself. This is the city in the symbolic, religious perspective.

Peoples from all over the world will stream to the Lord, made manifest in this Jerusalem, bringing rich gifts with them. The prophecy is not just speaking of the people of Israel as included in the glory of the Lord. This is a vision for all the peoples of the world. All will be welcome in this city of the Lord.

The Psalmist sings of a similar reality. “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The rulers will govern with justice, peace will flower forever, all rulers will bring gifts in tribute to the Lord and the poor and afflicted will find help – “the lives of the poor he shall save.” (Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13)

Another theme enters the picture with this notion of the Lord protecting the poor. The Lord’s glory shines forth and the Lord brings justice and peace and help for the poor. Not the standard expectation of the coming of a deity or a ruler!

Both Saints Luke and Matthew tell of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Matthew (2:1-12) notes this happened “in the days of King Herod.” (That phrase in Matthew’s Gospel has allowed scholars to set an approximate time frame for Jesus’ birth and life based on known facts about the time in which each king and emperor ruled.) While they were in Bethlehem, wise men (magi) came to Jerusalem in search of a “newborn king of the Jews.” Jerusalem was the capital city and Herod was enthroned there, so they naturally assumed Herod would know of the birth of his successor and be happy to have an heir. Herod was surprised by the news and not a little dismayed by it. He had no newborn heir! Jerusalem was not alive with joy over the birth of a new prince.

The wise men, astrologers, had seen a new star in an area of the sky associated with Israel. It was one that indicated the birth of a new ruler, according to their understanding of the movements of stars and other heavenly bodies. The priests whom Herod consulted explained that the child whose birth was long ago foretold would be found in Bethlehem, the city of King David. This was even more disturbing. Absolute and autocratic rulers then and now don’t like to know that ones who will oppose or replace them are out and about. They tend to try to imprison or kill them first. Herod was no exception. He instructed the magi to find the child and return to him with the address at which the family were living. Why? “That I too may go and do him homage.” Yea, right! His plan was to kill the child.

The magi went to Bethlehem and found the family. They presented their gifts for the child and bowed down to honor him. This was a child born to be king, after all. Not fooled by Herod, and warned in a dream not to return to Jerusalem, they returned home by another route, rejoicing in the success of their journey.

The magi were the first non-Jews to visit the newborn child and his family. Prior to that, only local people, including shepherds, knew they were in Bethlehem and that a child had been born. But with the visit of the magi, the Gentile world got its first glimpse of the child who would open the door wide for all peoples of the earth to share in the kingdom of the Lord, the Holy One shining in the new Jerusalem. The glory of the Lord shone forth through the child they found. It was an Epiphany, seeing God’s presence anew.

St. Paul takes the story a bit farther. He is working with Gentiles after having been tossed out by the Jewish communities in which he first preached the Good News revealed to him at his conversion. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6)

The Lord has come. He has come to Jerusalem. He has come for the poor and the rich – for all peoples of the world. Jerusalem is no longer a city belonging to any one people in the religious sense.

Epiphany refers to seeing God’s presence in a new way. In the Christian community around the world and in many cultures, this day of celebration includes not just the magi. It also includes the celebration of the Lord’s baptism, in which the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, revealing him as the one whose coming had been promised from ancient times. (Mk 1:9-11 and Jn 1:29-34) In some communities, it is also a celebration of the first miracle, performed at a marriage in Cana when water was turned into wine and Jesus’ first disciples began to realize that he might be more than just a great teacher. (Jn 2:1-11)

What do we see at Epiphany today? A war is raging, though not yet in Jerusalem. Peoples in the Middle East are fighting and dying once again. Peoples in Europe and Africa are as well this year. Where do we see the Lord’s presence? How does his coming change the equation in these days of so much pain and struggle. How is he present in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers? Where will they find safe homes, where their children will not be menaced by gangs or political parties seeking their own benefit rather than the common good?

Pray with me for peace this day. For justice and mercy. For a willingness to listen and find common ground with our opponents. For a day in which we can joyfully cry out, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” May this Jerusalem be the one in which we are living each day, working for justice, peace, and the good of all of the Lord’s people. May we see God’s presence shining forth anew in our lives and our world.

Readings for The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle B


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Posted by on Jan 8, 2023

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

Epiphany – The Light Shines Forth

A great light shining forth in the darkness. A manifestation of something unusual. A new understanding of something. All are included as meanings of the term epiphany and are not mutually exclusive. More than one meaning can apply to any particular situation.

Since ancient times, Christians have referred to various events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as epiphanies. He was born. He was visited by wise men from the east. He was baptized. He was seen after the resurrection. All of these events have been described by the term Epiphany.

The Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on the first Sunday following January 1, is the day we remember the visit of the sages from the East. These scholars watched the skies for signs that something important was happening somewhere in the world. Each part of the sky, each constellation, carried a meaning. If something changed within that section, it meant something was changing for humans too. Accordingly, when they noticed a new light appearing in a region of the sky related to the land of Israel and to royalty, they went to see who had just been born. (They lived close enough to this event to go for a visit!)

St. Matthew (Mt 2:1-12) tells of their visit and gives us an historical time frame that also tells us approximately when Jesus was born. “In the days of King Herod …” Herod was king from 37 to 4 BC, so Jesus was born during that time. The travelers stopped at the royal palace to inquire for the new child, a reasonable thing to do, given that the child was born to be a king according to the stars.

The wise ones were sent on to Bethlehem, where indeed they found the child and his parents, no longer in a stable, but in a house. Their gifts were shared and they returned home without checking in again with Herod. An angel had warned them in a dream that Herod was not to be trusted.

This event was and is seen as the first time non-Jews were welcomed into the new manifestation of God’s kingdom of love for all humans. In the past, it had been understood that people would come from all over the world to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. But the full meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah (60:1-6) was not totally obvious. “Nations shall walk by your light … your sons come from afar and your daughters in the arms of their nursemaids.” These words originally were spoken in terms of the return from Babylon to Israel. But the early followers of Jesus understood them to refer to people of all nations who would become part of the people of God, children of the covenant centered in Jerusalem.

On this day we celebrate that we are included among the many nations that rejoice at the light dawning with the coming of Jesus. We bring the gift of ourselves to the community of faith. Together we offer our gifts and talents along with the bread and wine on the altar. We sing of three kings coming to visit a baby. May we also sing with reference to our own lives. “Star of wonder, star of night … guide us to the perfect light.”

If you have time and are so inclined, it’s fun to make a Kings Cake / Rosca de Reyes to share with family and friends on this day.

Illustration: The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow – 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Look for the magi in the lower left corner of the painting!

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Posted by on Jan 2, 2022

Epiphany – The Glory of the Lord is Revealed

Epiphany – The Glory of the Lord is Revealed

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord was traditionally celebrated on January 6. However, since 1969, we have celebrated this feast on the Sunday following the celebration of Mary, Mother of God. This celebration is part of the Christmas season, which officially ends with the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after January 6.

The word Epiphany tells us what the celebration is all about. Epiphany means manifestation or appearance, particularly of a deity. It also refers to a sudden realization. The reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12) tells of the visit of wise men, astronomers and astrologers from the east, who saw a star rising in the heavens signaling the birth of a king in the land of Judah. These men traveled to the capital city and asked about the birth of the child who would be King of the Jews. Herod was not thrilled to hear of a potential rival. He found out where such a child might have been born and instructed the wise men to go to Bethlehem in search of the child, then return with the information to him. He planned to have the child killed, to eliminate his rival.

The wise men found Jesus and his family. They offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, then returned to their own land by a different way, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Joseph was also warned of Herod’s plan in a dream. He took the family and fled to Egypt until after Herod’s death, but that part of the story is not part of today’s reading.

These were the first non-Jews, the first Gentiles, who learned of the coming of Jesus. It was an Epiphany.

St. Paul speaks of this great news in his letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a, 5-6). He proclaims that God has revealed to him an amazing mystery which had been unknown to those of earlier generations – The Gentiles are members of the same body and promise in Christ Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by Jesus was not just for Jews. It was for all people. Salvation has come for all. Another epiphany!

The light of Jerusalem has come and the glory of the Lord shines forth. Just as Isaiah (60:1-6) wrote to the exiles returning from Babylon, the Lord shines on his people. Sons and daughters return from afar. The riches of the sea are emptied out for all and the wealth of nations comes to Jerusalem, to God’s people. It is a time of great rejoicing. Out of a time of darkness, the Lord’s light has shone forth – an epiphany.

What does all of this mean for us? As we remember and rejoice in the coming of the wise men in search of the Lord, revealing the promise of salvation to all the world, may we too be open to the ways God’s presence is seen in cultures and peoples around the world, particularly those on the margins of society.

We hope and pray for the gift of openness to the rising of new generations of leaders as we get older. Can we rejoice in the wisdom and insights that come from our children and grandchildren as they experience life in a world very different from the one in which we grew to adulthood? Or will we be like Herod, clinging to power and fearful of the future?

Will we share the many blessings we have received with those who need a hand to meet the daily necessities of life? What gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh do we have to offer? The gold of respect and encouragement? The incense of loving support and prayerful accompaniment? The myrrh of compassion and understanding during difficult times?

The Lord has come. The wise ones traveled far in search for him and they found him. Now it’s our turn to look for him in the days and weeks to come. Where will we find him?

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Posted by on Feb 21, 2015



800px-Sunrise on Mt Sinai in Egypt - June2006 - by Mabdalla - public domainLight is fascinating. At Christmas time we are enthralled with the lights all around us, candles and Yule fires. We feel safe in light. Light is beautiful to us. At Epiphany and the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) we hear that a light for the nations has come into the world and that people from afar have come to witness its arrival. Light is a physical, energetic reality so fundamental that it takes on symbolic meanings as well.

An energetic force

Light is so basic and essential that we take it for granted. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. So amazingly fast. It is an electromagnetic radiation, a specific energy, that has a spectrum of forms from short waves (ultraviolet) to long waves (infrared). In the middle are the manifestations of light we can see, such as colors. Its most notable characteristic for humans is that light stimulates the organs that help us see: the retina, the optic nerve, etc. We are richly blessed to see ourselves, people, and objects. Light is so important to humans that we can become very ill if we lack it for a long time.

A symbolic image

But, light is much more. It is also spoken of as mental illumination or insight. The word itself can mean to understand. It can also be used to describe being guided, as John of the Cross describes his own journey in spiritual darkness during which he is guided by nothing “save only the light burning in my heart.” (Dark Night of the Soul).

Light has been experienced as God presence, enlightenment and strength (Psalm 27:1). God is described in the Scriptures as our light, a light that shines in our darkness (John 1:5), a light who calls us out of darkness
(1 Peter 2:9). Jesus himself tells us in turn to be the light of the world and not to hide our light (Matt 5:14).

God is our light. Our lives can be in darkness, darkness from letting ourselves be in agitation from bad habits or denial. We can give in to negative thoughts or fear. On the other hand, if we practice openness to seeing and hearing God speaking in our hearts, we can see and hear a desire in us to be illuminated and strengthened. We can feel the fog lifting and an ability to live in light. It is our choice to say yes to this. We don’t have to earn it or produce it, we just have to consent to it.

Image by Mabdalla, Sunrise at Mt Sinai in Egypt, public domain

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