The Feast of the Epiphany
Jesus is the Guiding Star
Appreciating and Accepting Jesus as Light leading the world into his glory
Do you feel guided in your life? By what? What do you use from day to day to keep you on course toward your life’s goals?
•Do you have more than one goal in life? If so, what unifies or harmonizes them?
The Epiphany is all about Jesus leading us by his Light to his Light. The theme is light and motion — guided by a vision of glory.
Light and joy go together. Joy and praise go together. This is a feast of Light which we will experience as joy if we celebrate it with praise.
Joy without praise, joy unexpressed, is like a smoldering fire. It is real but not exuberant. If it is not shared, it is not fully experienced. It is stifled happiness.
The way to suffocate a house fire is to close all the windows. If someone opens one, the fire will explode outward and become an inferno. The fire of light and love that is God’s grace within us follows the same law of nature. If it is not expressed it is suppressed.
The Entrance Antiphon announces, “The Lord is coming: kingship is his, and government and power.” But the antiphon will leave us cold unless we express a response to it. The best response is to join in the proclamation, make it our own. The way to hear the Good News is to proclaim it. If we do, the message will inflame the messenger.
In the Opening Prayer we ask God, “Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith.” The Alternate Opening Prayer specifies: “Draw us beyond the limits which this world imposes, to the life where your Spirit makes all life complete.” Faith is a light from beyond this world — a sharing in the knowing act of God himself — and it is leading us to a “glory” that is also beyond this world, the glory of God himself. Does this make us poignantly, painfully aware of how limited the lives are of those who have never had, or who have given up, the faith? They are still bound in, enclosed within “the limits which this world imposes.” Limited knowledge, limited understanding, limited hopes, a limited sense of destiny, and nothing to love except the limited goodness of creatures evoking a limited response — with every relationship terminating in death. Enclosed within that darkness, the best they can have is a dim view of everything — even when they experience it as brilliance.
But if we don’t express our faith, give praise to God for what we see — praise him publicly, enthusiastically, authentically — others have no way of suspecting the “more.” In this context the expression “to damn with faint praise” takes on new and sobering meaning.
That is why we celebrate the Epiphany: to remind us and to reflect to others the Light we have received, the Light by which we journey, the Light that is leading us “beyond the limits which this world imposes” into the fullness of life that is found in sharing the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” To him we proclaim in the Gloria:
You alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.
We need to proclaim this to the world.
Isaiah 60: 1-6 summons us to praise: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!” This is exactly what the liturgy invites us to do at the beginning of every Mass: “Stand up! On your feet, believers! Rise up and sing. Show your splendor in letting the Entrance hymn rock the rafters!” Is anything less than this worthy of what we celebrate, of what we are about to do?
Why do we rise up? Isaiah tells us, “because your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” We have the light. We didn’t find it for ourselves, we didn’t figure it out. It was just given to us. But it makes us different!
“See, darkness covers the earth.” Isn’t that disturbingly obvious every time we read a paper or turn on the TV? “And thick clouds cover the peoples” — clouds of ignorance, bad example, distorted education, prejudice, divisiveness, hostility, addiction to violence.
“But upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.” It appears to “those who have eyes to see.” But how many cannot see because we have thrown dust in their eyes? The dust of our own acceptance of violence, our own idolatry, the devotion we show to the gods of our culture: prosperity, prestige, productivity, position and power? How many can’t see our glory because we are hiding it under a “bushel basket” of cowardly reserve, apathetic participation at Mass, conformist behavior in social and professional life, just plain laziness about Scripture reading and prayer? And yet the glory is there. The light is within us. We are the light of the world. We just have to let it shine.1
“Raise your eyes and look about,” Isaiah invites us: “Nations shall walk by your light…. They all gather and come to you.” Actually, they are coming to us now. People are seeking the truth and finding it in the Church. Those who defected because they suffocated the light within themselves by not letting it shine are being replaced by those who “want out” of the darkness. These are coming, “proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” They need to find us proclaiming his praises also, so that we can all rejoice in the koinonia, the “communion in the Holy Spirit” that is the visible “glory of God” on earth.
If we “proclaim his praises” enough, that glory will bring about what the Responsorial (Psalm 72) exults in: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
Matthew 2: 1-12: This can have humble beginnings. The visit of the Magi may seem impressive in the small-town setting of Bethlehem, but, aside from the fact that we don’t really know what the “magi” were, there were only three of them and they didn’t stay long! (Actually, we don’t know how many there were. We guess three because three types of gift are mentioned). The story is not meant to show the nations streaming in to Jesus, but just to make the point that from the very beginning the Good News was meant for all.
This was to counter the “fundamentalist” Christians of the “judaizing” or Pharisee party, who claimed that letting the Gentiles into the Church without requiring them to observe all the Jewish customs was an innovation introduced by Paul and the Apostles, something “Jesus never did!” Here, as elsewhere, Matthew shows that, though the mission of Jesus himself while on earth was only to the Jews, the Father did send others to him and he accepted them. 2
In our day we must guard against the tendency to restrict the Mass — or even Communion — to a special “elite” who meet all our customary benchmarks, even when these are stricter than our faith requires.
Just as obviously, we need to resist any attempt to impose one language on the liturgy. It is typical of colonialism, and contrary to catholicism (small c) to repress native languages. Christians do not have any “sacred language” such as Hebrew is for the Jews and Arabic for the Moslems. As a “catholic” Church, we consider all languages equal, both for worship and for proclaiming divine revelation. All we ask is that they be intelligible to their hearers. For us, this is a logical conclusion from “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
This is the overwhelming theme of the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany: that every nation on earth will adore him. That his light will shine out to every human being on earth, through every human being enlightened and enlivened by his grace. This is what the Church lives and exists for, to evangelize the world. And the first act of evangelization is praise. How can we excite others about something we don’t appear to be excited about ourselves?
A Propulsion to Praise
In Ephesians 3: 2-6 St. Paul says we have something to be excited about! It is “the mystery unknown in former ages but now revealed by the Spirit,” that “in Christ” the Gentiles are now coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of the Gospel. We are compelled to praise God for the glory he is bringing about:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.... He chose us in Christ.... to the praise of his glorious grace.... He has made known to us the mystery of his... plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ.... so that we... might live for the praise of his glory. In him you ... were marked with the... Holy Spirit... to the praise of his glory.3
If we are not moved to praise him, we haven’t really heard the Good News.
How do I feel now about praising God at Mass?
Join the “cheering section” at Mass. Sit with others. Sing. Get with it.
1 Matthew 5:14-16.
2 Compare Matthew 10:5-6 with 10:17-18. See Matthew 8:5-13; 15:21-28; Luke 10:29-37; 17:11-19; John 4:3-
3 Ephesians 1:3-12.