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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany

I hate to admit it, but I had to look up the dictionary definition of the word 'epiphany'. We use the word in conjunction with this feast, but do we really think about what it means? The American Heritage Dictionary defines 'epiphany' as “A revelatory manifestation of a divine being.” Kind of a long-winded definition, but it fits this feast well. In this feast, traditionally celebrated on January 6th, but relocated to the Sunday following January 1st, we celebrate the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, being revealed to the Gentiles in fulfillment of the promise by Isaiah to the people of Israel.

In our first reading, Isaiah is speaking to a downtrodden people of Israel who have been subjected to the Babylonian Exile. Having been forced away from their homeland, the people of Israel are wondering how God's promise to them will be fulfilled. Isaiah reveals to them that the promise will not only be fulfilled, but in greater measure than they could ever imagine.

For the Gentiles to share in the promise of God to the people of Israel would have been greatly revolutionary. God's promise to Abraham was that his descendants would share in the Promised Land and receive His salvation. They understood this to mean those who were of Israelite descent, that is those who physically descended from the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those who were not of the people of Israel could become “God fearing Gentiles”, sharing in some of the rituals, feasts and celebrations, but would never fully participate of the promise of God. It was only through birth to a family with Israelite lineage that one participated fully in God's promise of salvation.

With the coming of Our Lord and the visit by the magi, who would have been considered Gentiles, all of this changed. Now, the promise of God's salvation has been opened to all humanity, not only those of Israelite descent. We all can now participate in the salvation promised by God, made incarnate through the birth of Our Lord. By our participation in this promise, we are challenged to be like the star and the magi in the Gospel reading.

The star which appeared in the night sky at Our Lord's birth led the magi to adore Him in the humble surroundings of the stable as a little child. In our lives, we are challenged to lead those around us to Our Lord, just as the star led the magi to Him. The best way that we can do this is by living our lives in accord with the virtues that Jesus teaches us through His Gospel and His Church, but we also may be called to be more proactive in proclaiming the Gospel. Sometimes it could be a sympathetic ear and friendly advice to someone who feels lost or confused. Other times, it may be a willingness to defend our beliefs against someone who is denigrating the faith and those who follow it. We may even have to learn our faith so that we can answer the questions that we have, or that are brought up by those we interact with on a daily basis. We are called to live and share our faith in order to lead others to Christ just as the star led the magi to Him.

Through the prostration of the magi before the Christ Child and his mother, we are also challenged to adore Our Lord however he appears to us. The magi were willing to fall down in adoration before a mere infant lying in a manger within a stable, so we should be willing to spend time in adoration before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, whether reserved in the Tabernacle or exposed in the Monstrance. We can do this by arriving for Mass early to spend time in silent adoration, or by staying after Mass for a few minutes to adore Him in thanksgiving for being able to receive Him in Holy Communion. We also have the privilege of being able to stop by throughout the day and spend some quiet time with Him in the midst of our hectic schedules, even if just for a couple of minutes. Any way that we can do it, we are encouraged to spend time in silent adoration of Our Lord.

Through our participation in the salvation promised by God, we are given the challenge to live our lives in devotion to Him. May we take up the challenge, as the magi did, and live our lives in praise and adoration of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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