Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – January 3, 2021
Most of us have listened to quite a few homilies during the past week, beginning with Christmas to Holy Family Sunday to New Year’s Day and the feast of Mary, Mother of God to this day, as we celebrate Epiphany. While we all have our opinions about the homilies that we’ve heard, whether they’re long or short, entertaining or boring, complicated or simple – the key to their value is how well they enable us to hear what the scriptures to speak to our lives today in 2021.
At first glance, it may appear that the story of the magi is just one more Christmas tale that we recount that has little relevance in our complicated world and lives. I’d suggest, however, that if we scratch its surface just a bit, we’ll discover how powerfully it speaks to our lives if we allow it to do so.
The story of the magi, who finally arrive in Bethlehem with their unique and precious gifts – their rich attire – and their colorful retinues – is not merely a romantic tale with a happy conclusion. Their arrival triggered the unleashing of evil and hatred aimed at Jesus and the very mission of mercy and salvation that he was born to bring to our world. For, you see, their arrival and welcome – particularly as Gentiles – revealed that Jesus’ message of hope was extended to all peoples because of God’s plan and Jesus’ self-sacrificing life and unconditional love.
Yet, for many, despite their welcome, the magi didn’t belong in Bethlehem. They were different. Many believed that only the people of Israel – the chosen ones – should have been recipients of God’s saving grace. But the magi turned that understanding of God upside down. They were welcomed not because they were perfect individuals who deserved recognition. They were welcomed because they were authentic and humble to admit that they needed something more in their lives – more than what could be satisfied by the things of this world that they – and so many of us – seek to acquire. Recognizing in Jesus the fulfillment of all that they sought, they worshipped him and opened their lives and hearts to his presence.
Simply put, Epiphany celebrates God’s all-inclusive love. More than ever, we need to know and believe that we are loved. Yet sadly, more than we might realize, the best of us put limits on that love, don’t we? While we acknowledge our need for God’s love and mercy, we sometimes question whether others are just as deserving – because of who they are … what they believe … how they live … where they come from … or how they look or sound.
Today’s feast offers an essential insight into our faith as Christians that we ought never to forget. We are saved not by our own righteousness but by the mercy and love of God won for us through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Such overwhelming love and mercy can never be limited by our determination of who is worthy of God’s grace and who is not.
In his annual message for the 54th World Day of Peace celebrated just two days ago on January 1st, Pope Francis reflected on this reality, which is ultimately rooted in the dignity of every human person made in the image and likeness of God. “The very concept of the person …,” the Holy Father asserts, “always signifies relationship, not individualism; it affirms inclusion, not exclusion, unique and inviolable dignity, not exploitation. … The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the truth and timeliness of this fact. In the face of the pandemic, ‘we have realized that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together,’ since ‘no one reaches salvation by themselves,’” isolated one from another.
We’ve been through a lot this past year. … We’ve lived in fear of an invisible enemy that has consumed our world. Thousands have become ill and far too many have been consumed with grief because of the passing of those they love. Bitterness and anger consumed our land during the election cycle – and still do. Racism continues to lift its ugly head. And we’ve been isolated one from another – not solely because of a virus – but because of our unwillingness to treat one another with respect and dignity and to accept one another as God has welcomed us into His life through Jesus’ birth, his life, death and resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, the scriptures and this great feast of Epiphany proclaim a powerful message to our lives this day. May we be humble enough to allow this message to speak to our hearts and so be used by God to create a new year of peace.