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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 16, 2015

The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent

The Magi and the Gift of Holy Discontent

 


Fr. Geoffrey Plant of Sydney, Australia has prepared a multimedia homily for the feast of the Epiphany. In his homily, Fr. Plant presents the main points of the feast.

The term “epiphany” comes from the Greek meaning to “shine forth”. We tend to assume that there were three kings because there were three gifts named: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Fr. Plant notes that they were not called kings but “magi” in Greek, with stands for wise men or sages.

The gifts are symbolic of the nature and meaning of Jesus. Gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is a sign of the divine, and myrrh is for burial, indicating that Jesus will triumph through suffering and death.

Fr. Plant suggests the wise men also brought the gift of Holy Discontent. Examples of holy discontent may be seen in the character of Popeye. An example of unholy indifference is seen in the the character of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Fr. Plant sees the magi as showing a holy discontent: a willingness to search, to be changed, and not to feel comfortable again. He compares them to Herod’s wise men who despite being so close to Bethlehem fail to see the signs in the heavens though others have seen them from afar.  Quoting W. H. Auden, Fr. Plant compares the hardness of heart of Herod’s wise men to our own post-modern era:

We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die

W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

This gift of Holy Discontent — the gift of prophecy and activism — is what the wise men bring to the Christ child and to us according to Fr. Plant. It is the divine call to the kingdom through suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

 

Presents-under-the-Christmas-treeby Petr KratochvilGifting, the giving and receiving of gifts during the Christmas season, serves to remind us of God’s great gift in coming to live with us personally. In Jesus, the Word of God, became a human, like us in all things but sin. God chose to enter into the vulnerable, imperfect, uncertain, but wonderful reality of life as a fully human being, starting as a baby with normal human parents, family, and friends in a small village. Through the gift of incarnation and redemption, God healed the division between the divine and the human, giving humans the chance to be re-united with their source.

Christians have celebrated this great gift from the very beginning through their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Sharing of gifts of time, talent, and money has also been a hallmark of the Christian life, not just within the community but also reaching outside to the most vulnerable members of society. The world has never been the same since God entered personally into our human experience, because now God lives as Holy Spirit within each of us and reaches out to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Diverse gifting traditions

Traditions for giving and receiving gifts vary around the world. In some areas St. Nicholas brings gifts on his feast day, December 6. In others Santa Claus or the Christ Child bring gifts at Christmas. In still others, the gifts arrive at the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany in early January, when the coming of Jesus was shown forth to the Gentile world as well as to the original children of Israel.

The gifts arrive in different ways as well. Some are placed in shoes, others in stockings. Some are placed under a tree, others arrive carried by family or friends. Some are wrapped, others shine in all their glory to delight children who wake early to find them. Some even come via the postal service and other freight delivery trucks! However they arrive and however they are packaged, they carry love in their wake.

As we have moved through Advent and into the Christmas Season this year, I have also been noticing the ways that traditional holiday foods arrive in or as packages. Many candies and baked goods arrive in lovely containers. The tamales we enjoy at Christmas and New Year’s Day have meat or vegetables seasoned with chili hidden inside the corn dough. Chinese dumplings eaten to celebrate the New Year have a mixture of meat and/or vegetables hidden inside the noodle dough that we see. King cakes have a figurine or other surprise hidden inside. Steamed puddings have nuts and raisins inside. Each of these traditional forms of gifts and food (and others from around the world) is a way that we as humans express the wonder of God’s gift of himself to us through the birth of Jesus.

May the joy of Christmas and the wonder of Epiphany be yours now and into the year we have begun.

 Image by Petr Kratochvil – public domain

 

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Posted by on Jan 9, 2013

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

Epiphany — The Coming of a Shepherd for All God’s People

 

The Adoration of the Magic by Murillo

The Adoration of the Magic by Murillo

The readings for the Feast of the Epiphany and the week that follows ring out with joy at the coming of the Lord, not just to the Jewish people, but to all the world. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” (Is 60:1) “… the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6) “… behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:1-2) “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.” (Ps 72:11)

Yet amidst all of this joy and talk of kings and splendor, the reality of God’s kingdom quietly peeks out. Where has the child been born? Not in Jerusalem, the center of political and religious power. Those in Jerusalem — kings and priests alike — have not heard of the birth of a child to inherit the throne. The priests and teachers remember the prophecy of his birth: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” (Mt 2:6) Bethlehem, city of David, home of another child who grew up to replace an earthly king to whom he was not related, is once again to produce such a king! The news was not a source of joy to the rulers of the age; an attempt to thwart the prophecy was duly launched, leading to the massacre of all of the boys aged two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. (Mt 2:16) The birth of a child to be the new king brings terrible suffering to many innocent children and their families.

The king of the prophecy will be different: he will be a shepherd for God’s people, Israel. A shepherd takes a different approach to governing and to leadership. The shepherd will govern with justice, protecting the afflicted ones and bringing peace “til the moon be no more” to the land. (Ps 72:7) The kings of the nations will pay homage to this king and all nations will serve him because this king rescues the poor who cry out for help. He takes pity on everyday people and the poor, rescuing them from all who would oppress or take advantage of them. Such a king would indeed be welcomed and his glory would truly shine forth. This king, blessed by God, will bring glory to Jerusalem — the center of the Lord’s presence among His people.

This great feast of Epiphany, the shining forth of the Lord’s splendor from Israel into the world at large, reminds us of our call as the People of God: a call to care for each other so that the splendor of love in all its practical applications will be a witness everywhere to the presence of the Shepherd, leading us in bringing justice and peace to our world.

 

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Posted by on Jan 6, 2012

Experiencing and Celebrating God-With-Us Through Gifting

A Sweet Treat for the Feast of Epiphany – Rosca de Reyes

Roscón de Reyes

The Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, is traditionally celebrated on January 6  in western Christian Churches. While the Roman Catholic Church has moved the celebration of the Epiphany to the Sunday following the Feast of Mary Mother of God (January 1), this feast continues to be celebrated on January 6 in many homes and communities. In Latin cultures, the Three Kings bring gifts to children on this day and families gather for festive meals.

Rosca de Reyes or Roscón de Reyes (King’s Bread) is a traditional pastry served on the Feast of the Epiphany. It is generally served with a cup of hot chocolate or atole in Mexico. In Spain, people savor this sweet bread for breakfast, while in Latin America it is more commonly served in the afternoon.

The tradition of making ring cakes dates back to the Saturnalia, when the Romans would fashion round cakes made with honey, figs, and dates, and distribute them to all people, including slaves. In the third century, people started to put one dried fava-bean in the dough, and whoever received the piece of bread that contained the bean would be named rey de reyes (king of kings) for a short period of time.

The cakes that are made today are formed to imitate a crown – shaped as a ring and decorated with bright “jewels” (fruits.) In Spain, a fava-bean is still hidden in the dough, but in Mexico a doll representing the baby Jesus in tucked inside the ring. The doll symbolizes that Jesus had to be hidden and protected after he was born. Today in Mexican culture, the lucky person who finds the doll is expected to take the figurine to church on February 2 and host a party that day to celebrate El Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas).

The following is a recipe for Rosca de Reyes for those who like to bake and would like to try a special treat.

Rosca de reyes
(King’s Bread Ring)

Ingredients:

2 packets of yeast
2 Tablespoons lukewarm water
2/3 cup boiling hot milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 well beaten eggs
1/3 cup softened shortening
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups finely-chopped candied or dried fruits and citron or a little dried lemon peel + a handful for decoration
Chopped nuts. maraschino cherries, and/or orange peel for decoration (optional)

Soften yeast in lukewarm water. Combine hot milk, sugar, salt, and stir to blend. Let cool to lukewarm. Add softened yeast, eggs, shortening, and half of the flour. Beat until well blended. Add remaining flour and candied fruits. Mix until the dough is moderately stiff. Knead lightly on floured board until smooth. Grease baking sheets.

To shape dough:

To make 2 small rings, divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a rope about 20-inches long. Shape into 7-8-inch circles on greased baking sheets, or use ring molds. Put one china, or heat resistant plastic doll into each ring so that they do not show.

To make one large ring, roll the dough into a longer rope and shape into a ring of desired size. Tuck a doll into the dough.

Brush with melted shortening. Let rise in slightly warm place until double in bulk. Bake at 375˚ for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. (The smaller ring will take less time to cook.) Let cool.

To decorate: Blend powdered sugar and milk (or water) to make a thick icing. Spread icing over ring(s) and decorate with more candied fruits, maraschino cherries or peels.

Image by Tamorlan
Used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

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