Sunday, 8 January 2017

Feast of the Epiphany

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 71; Ephesians 2:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

After they have met publicly with the chief priests and scribes, Herod is anxious to meet the wise men ‘secretly’. It is how politics tends to be done, through secret deals and meetings outside meetings. But today’s feast is about the opposite of secrecy. The mystery hidden in God from all eternity is made known to the world in the birth of Jesus. It is a mystery of light, a revelation, and an illumination. Like all politicians, Herod is anxious to control events and he is already devising his strategy. But another hand is guiding these events, another mind is revealed in how they unfold, and a different power is at work here for a purpose beyond anything Herod can imagine. God’s plan – for it is the hand and mind and power of God that are being revealed – will not be frustrated by Herod.

There had always been a universalist strand in Jewish thought. We find it in the prophets, who issue frequent reminders that the choosing of Israel, and her re-establishment after the Exile, are not just for Israel but are, through her, for all the nations. So the first reading already provides much of the imagery and meaning of today’s feast: your light has come, the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. In the darkness of this world’s night the nations see and are led by the light that has risen over Israel. This universalism is there from the beginning, in the original call of Abraham. He is promised a land and a people so that all the nations of the earth might be blessed through him.

With the birth of Jesus the mystery of God’s love for humanity is revealed definitively and uniquely. In this mystery, the Gentiles, represented by the three pagans who present their gifts to the Holy Family, are fellow heirs with the chosen people, members of the same body and partakers of the same promise. Following their own best understanding of how truth is to be sought, they find their way to Bethlehem. All who seek truth with a sincere heart will, sooner or later, find their way to Bethlehem. The clamorous human world gathers at the feet of this Child, not just the Jewish world of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds but the Gentile world from Midian, Ephah and Sheba. The revelation and the promise are for everybody.

[First published in The Pastoral Review, Jan-Feb 2007]

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