Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lord, Every Nation On Earth Will Adore You!

The Epiphany of the Lord

Reading I Isaiah 60:1-6
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.
Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.


Responsorial Psalm 72
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;
the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.
All kings shall pay him homage,
all nations shall serve him.
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.


Reading II Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.


Gospel Matthew 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
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.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

+++ +++ +++ +++

The seventeenth century artist Guido Reni created a magnificent painting of Matthew. As he sits at his writing table, an angel is whispering to him various events in the life of Jesus, and he is writing down everything he is told. His notes will become his Gospel. A part of what that angel revealed to Matthew is today in today’s gospel of the Epiphany. It is only Matthew who tells this wondrous tale. Why the other Evangelists don’t mention it, we will never know – at least not in this world.

In most of the world, Epiphany, not Christmas, is the time for gift giving, especially for the children. In France, cakes are baked, and coins placed in them. In Greece, a cross is thrown into the water, and whoever retrieves it receives presents. In the Latin countries, boys and girls leave hay in their shoes for the camels to eat, hoping that the camels with thank them by leaving gifts.

As their journey began, the three pilgrims left the warmth of their own fires and the love of their families; alone and undaunted, they went searching for God. They responded eagerly to the invitation of the Spirit, leaving their homeland with its familiar language and culture, and coming to a distant land whose ruler was a tyrant who murdered his enemies – and even members of his own family.

It was not at Herod’s palace that they completed their quest. They did not find the God they sought in a palace surrounded by courtiers and soldiers. Instead, he was lying in a manger surrounded by the pungent aromas of farm animals. Matthew records no sign of disappointment on their part. Instead, they humbly fell to their knees and placed their finest gifts before him. Only then did they return to their homes, wives and children.

These seekers, whom we call “Magi” from the Greek “magoi” which is the root of our words “magic” and “magician”, were not illusionists like modern magicians, but astronomers who studied the heavens, and tried to figure out the relationship between what was happening in the sky and what was happening on earth. They were part astronomer, and part astrologer.
They are also called “Wise Men”, because they followed the celestial signs that led them to the Holy Child. They were the first Gentiles to worship Christ the Lord. They were, in a very real sense, the first Christians. Wherever the Christmas story is told, they will be remembered.

These men proved to be wise indeed. They had risked everything for God, and they had achieved their goal. Is there any doubt that the equally wise Matthew is trying to teach us a lesson, as well? Each of us must take risks if we would find God. If we are overly cautious or fearful, we will not enjoy our own epiphany, we will not find the newborn Savior.
How unlike these Wise Men were the Temple priests. They read the Scriptures; they knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Yet, they would not join the Magi in their quest. Now we can only shake our heads in wonder at their blindness, and pity them. And, in the next to last chapter of the story that today brings us to the stable in Bethlehem, those priests and Pharisees, and a younger Herod, would have their roles to play in “the end of the story”. But for now, let’s stay with the newborn babe, his mother and father, the shepherds and the wise men. Let’s try to be as humble as the shepherds, and as wise as the Magi.

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