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RCIA – The Solemnity of the Epiphany

January 3, 2010

Today we celebrate the Epiphany, when God revealed himself to the magi. Now all can receive God’s salvation, not just the Jewish people. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, and we have an equal share in God’s grace.

The Solemnity of the Epiphany has a very rich liturgical tradition. It was celebrated by the earliest Christians. In the church of the East, such as the Greek Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox, this day has a greater prominence than Christmas. The Orthodox churches focus primarily on the baptism of our Lord. The Roman Catholic Church has assimilated, or absorbed it into the Christmas season. The Catholic focus of the Epiphany is three fold, the adoration of the magi, the baptism of Christ, and his first miracle at Cana; events where Christ’s divinity shines through his humanity. Sadly some only see this feast as the historical event of the magi visiting Jesus, but it is so much more than that. Christmas is the birth of Jesus, who is the messiah who came to earth to save his people, the Jews. But with the Epiphany, we learn that Jesus came to earth to save everyone. The Epiphany is really the Gentile’s Christmas. We all have an opportunity to receive God’s saving love. Jesus’ message is universal and his plan of salvation is available to all who want to participate in it. The Catholic Church is universal, in fact, the word catholic means universal.

The key points today are

  • The revelation of God and Jesus to all
  • All peoples are united in the Lord
  • Jesus is the light of the world
  • We have a responsibility in sharing the light of the world with others.

Unity

One big happy family. Uniting all people together into one human family has been a goal since the beginning of time.

In the first reading we see the Jewish people being reunited after the Babylonian exile. Isaiah expresses the darkness and gloominess of the time of exile, and then it changed in to the light and glory of the Lord with the promised reunification. When the Babylonians conquered Israel, they sent the Jewish people into exile knowing that a united people could be strong and oppose a takeover. A weak people cannot or will not protest. They separated the Jewish people, the women and children were left in the homeland of Judea, while the men and leaders were sent into exile. This separation of the Jewish people also weakened their culture and religious traditions. Add to that the Babylonians moved into the Jewish homeland to further dilute their traditions.

The end of the exile came when the Babylonians were conquered by the Persian army lead by Cyrus the Great. He allowed the Jews to return home, and he even financed the rebuilding of the Jewish temple which had been previously destroyed. The people had been separated from their shrines and religious practices during the exile, and they were ready to be able to worship God again without fear.

Isaiah says that not only is there joy and glory in Jerusalem because of the reunification of the Jewish people, but the glory of Jerusalem will overflow and other “nations shall walk by your light.” We know today that this light is Jesus Christ, and the other nations are the Gentiles, all non-Jewish people. All of the peoples of the world who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are walking in the shining radiance of glorified Jerusalem.

Have you seen “the glory of the Lord” shining in the world? How? In the Sunday liturgy? in a beautiful sunset? in a baby’s smiling face? In the love of family and friends? How?

The revelation of Jesus is made known to all because God allowed himself to be revealed. What did God reveal to his holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit, which was unknown to former generations? That the Gentiles are coheirs with the Jews, meaning we are all God’s children.

The second reading also discusses unity, the unification of all of God’s people, Jewish and Gentile. St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Ephesians that unity of the whole human family has been God’s plan all along. The Jewish people’s twelve tribes had been fractured for generations and they looked forward to one day when all of the tribes would be united again. Most of the first Christians were Jewish converts because they were the people that Jesus lived among. St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, preached far and wide to peoples of non- Jewish descent. The Jewish Christians followed Christ, but they also followed the old Jewish law. It was the Jewish prophets of old that foretold of the coming messiah who would save Israel. Jesus is that messiah, but he didn’t come to save just the Jewish people, he came to save all of us. So, both the Jews and the Gentiles will share equally, are copartners, in the promises of Jesus Christ that we find throughout the gospels. Gentiles are members of the same body as the Jews, meaning we are all part of the same family now. This is similar to a family reading the will of a deceased loved one and finding that a bunch of strangers will also receive the same inheritance that the blood family members will receive. We want to keep our family group as a close-knit little circle, but Jesus’ promise of salvation is a gift for all nations. The Jewish-Christians had a problem with letting the Gentiles into their communities. They were worried that the infiltration of the Gentiles would weaken and change the course of Jewish-Christianity. The Jewish-Christians didn’t want to change their way of doing things due to the influence of the outsiders, the Gentiles. (They were remembering how the Babylonians had infiltrated their lives and tried to destroy their culture and religion.) But they seemed to forget that Jesus of Nazareth did just that all during his ministry; he challenged and changed the status quo. The weak became the strong and the strong became weak. Jesus said there is power in weakness.

At Baptism, each one of us is called to reach out to others with the good news. Do you ever share your faith in Jesus with anyone outside the Catholic community? How might you do so? We really can reach people all over the world with our faith and love. Name some of the ways we can do this, in spiritual ways and in other ways. How can your group reach out to the world, especially to those in need, in a practical way?

Paul speaks of a mystery in today’s second reading. What do you think that mystery is?

Unity is valued by many, but it is also a threat to some, mainly a threat to those in power, such as King Herod in the gospel. Jesus, the Son of God, was born in a lowly place, a stable. Only a few of the locals knew about his birth, even the shepherds needed an announcement from an angel, as we heard in the gospel on Christmas day. The shepherds heard the glorious message from the angel, and they shared with everyone they knew. And all who heard the message gave praise and glory to God. Then a little while later Jesus’ star shone brightly for all to see, and as a result the magi, who traveled a great distance, came bearing gifts to pay him homage. The magi approached the current king of the Jews saying that they saw the star of the newborn king of the Jews. Earlier, the shepherds rejoiced at the knowledge of the newborn king, but now King Herod is “greatly troubled” by this announcement of strangers wanting to offer homage to a newborn king. Herod is worried that the messiah king will destroy the Roman Empire since it is oppressing the Jewish people in their homeland of Israel. Herod may have been the king of the Jews at that time, but he was only in power because Rome had made him the king. Herod didn’t want to lose his job as king; he wanted to remain in power and so he was threatened by the birth of the Christ child. Herod then plots to destroy Jesus. Herod ordered the slaughter of all of the newborn Jewish boys to kill the Christ child so that he would not lose his kingship. While Herod does not succeed in killing Jesus in his infancy, Herod continues to plot against Jesus all his life, finally Herod’s son succeeds with Jesus’ Passion.

Herod was king of the Jews from an earthly power perspective. He controlled the people, he lived in a splendid palace, and he had people to do his bidding. People in charge can use their power to disperse and oppress other people. That destroys unity and peace. Jesus, on the other hand, is king of the Jews and king of the world from a servanthood perspective. Jesus’ kingship liberates the oppressed, and is the champion of the marginalized. Jesus preaches unity, peace and the common good. If a marginalized people can unite, they can work towards justice for themselves. Their unity gives them a sense of power too. Hopefully it will be a power used only for good.

The astrologers, or magi, represent all the peoples of the world. They had to make an effort to find Jesus. Even after seeing the star, they had to make a long journey before finding the Savior of the world. How are you like the magi? Do you have “stars” in your life that lead you on the right path to Jesus? Who or what are they?

Sometimes on long journeys, we are tempted to turn back. What keeps you on the road to Jesus?

It has been said that the star is a symbol of faith. How can your faith be a “star” for others this week? How can it light the way?

What is the price of unity?

What is the price of peace?

What does power mean to you?

If someone called you a powerful person would you take that as a compliment?

Manifestation – Revelation of Jesus to All

Jesus’ star over Bethlehem, which drew the magi to him, was the first epiphany. Firstly Jesus is revealed to all. Over the course of his life, Jesus also reveals his divinity to us. The next six Sundays we will hear the gospel readings for Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, his changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and four other miracles. Jesus needed to resort to miracles to convince his followers that he is divine; he is God.

Are you convinced that Jesus is God? Jesus suffered a horrible death for us before he performed his greatest miracle on Easter Sunday. Jesus paid a great price for our salvation.

Jesus’ light has come into the world, and it is here for all of us. As we have heard before, Jesus is offering us salvation. The Magi responded to Jesus’ call, they followed his star. As part of their response they brought gifts. “To offer gold is to proclaim Christ’s kingship, to offer incense is to adore his Godhead, and to offer myrrh is to acknowledge his morality” (Saint Odilo of Cluny). Pope Saint Gregory the Great says even creation responded to Jesus: “When the king of heaven was born, the heavens knew that he was God because they immediately sent forth a star; the sea knew him because it allowed him to walk upon it; the earth knew him because it trembled when he died; the sun knew him because it hid the rays of its light.”

How do we respond to Jesus’ revelation? Are we ready to be led home another way? Can we see Jesus in our brothers and sisters, in our parents, in our friends? Are we aware of our own shortcomings?

We too are on a journey just like the magi, are we willing to go the distance? It’s not going to be an easy journey. Will we turn around if we come to a road block?

Light of the World

The star over the place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem led the magi on a journey to find the light of the world. While we may not see a star today, we can still see the light of Jesus. The light of Jesus’ Spirit and the sound of his Word are still drawing people towards him today.  Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star.” The magi were guided by the star to Jerusalem to find the newborn king, but from there they were guided by the light of the Word of God in the Scriptures. Jesus shines his light for us in many ways. We too must shine our light in many ways.

Jesus is the light of the world, and as followers of Christ we must be the light for those people that are still in darkness. We must do our part to draw people to Christ; Jesus’ plan of salvation for all must be preached to the ends of the earth. Missionaries are prime examples of Jesus’ light in the world today.

Can you think of any missionaries, either people alive today or people you can remember from your history lessons?

How can you be a missionary?

The Magi brought gifts to the Christ child, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Christ still lives among us today in the Eucharist. What kind of gifts can we bring to our Lord?

At Epiphany we think of the gifts of the magi and remember that we are called to walk by the light of Christ. Name or draw three gifts you think Jesus would most like to receive from youth around the world today. How will you work, either alone or with others, to make one of these gifts a reality? List the steps you will take.

Walking in the Light of the Lord
Jesus is the Light of the World. How will you let the light of Jesus shine through you during this final week of the Christmas season? Choose from the list of “lights” below or name your own.

generosity
thoughtfulness
kindness
patience
cheerfulness
other?

Which one did you choose?

When will you walk in this shining light this week?

How has the light of Christ been visible to you as you journey toward initiation? How can you witness (share) the light of Christ in your school or workplace or among your family and friends?

One of the things that St. Mary’s Church does to share the light with our community is the food pantry. In the past we participated in the ecumenical Cross walk on Good Friday.

Miscellaneous

The Magi were not kings, but astrologers who studied the heavens for signs or omens and knowledge of the universe. All we really know about the magi is what we read in today’s gospel, but as early as the third century people began to give the magi names, identify them as kings, speculate on which countries they came from, etc.  The Eastern churches have their own traditions about the magi, and the Catholic Church also has a few. The names given to the magi are Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior. Their relics are said to rest in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

In the old days, before there was easy access to calendars, the date of Easter was proclaimed on Epiphany. Easter is a movable holy day, and many other celebrations depend on the date of Easter. For all practical purposes, Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox (the first day of spring). (It’s a little more complicated than this in reality. See http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/easter.php for the details.)

The Twelve Days of Christmas end on January 6th, the actual day of the Epiphany, but in the US, we usually celebrate it on the closest Sunday.

The Epiphany is sometimes called Three Kings Day.

Sources:

Magnificat Vol. 11, No. 12 / January 2010

Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, 2010

The Word into Life, Year C

http://ezinearticles.com/?Catholic-Symbol-of-the-Epiphany&id=1828655

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=442

http://www.churchyear.net/epiphany.html

and a few others.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 1:29 am

    Thank you for the excellent resources — they are much appreciated.

    Bless your work.

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