Theme: Universal salvation
In life never to be silent when human beings are enduring suffering and humiliation. There is so much to be done; there is so much that even one person can do. With the feast of Epiphany we are invited to be that one person who can do something, however small it may appear to dispel darkness that enshrouds others. In today’s first reading, Prophet Isaiah describes the chasing away of Israel’s night in terms of a great parade of nations coming to bask in the light of Jerusalem, made glorious and luminous by the salvific presence of God.
In a similarly dramatic fashion, the Gospel of Matthew relates the story of the Magi traveling from the east, led by a star to pay homage to Jesus the light of the world. What Isaiah and Matthew envision on a grand scale, each of us is challenged to replicate on a smaller but efficient level.
First reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Prophet Isaiah shares with his fellow Jews who have returned from exile, a promissory vision affirming that God would continue to intervene and lead their nation out of the darkness into the light of peace, justice and freedom. The tone of this vision is still needed even today in a society where our spirits seem many times low. We all need to hear these words addressed to us that “God shall come to Zion, a redeemer to those of Jacob who turn from sin.” Isaiah 60:2. What is crucial though is to remain mindful that the new day of light soon to be experienced is not self-generated but rather God’s gratuitous gift. In our liturgical life, God’s powerful coming among the people is frequently represented as the coming of light. God’s glory shines forth and we are privileged to live in the glow, thereby becoming a presence and source of light in the world. Thus, this text that traces every believer’s path from darkness to light also signals the move from absence to presence, from despair to hope, from dismay to well-being.
But how does this vision speak to us who are making our way through the third millennium world often darkened by human need, immense sin and suffering that derives thereof? If we allow it, Isaiah’s vision will lead us back to God who is the source of our light and the reason for our hope. In God alone lie the solutions to darkness; these solutions have become flesh and come to dwell among us in the person, words and ministry of Jesus. On our part, we are challenged to appropriate these solutions and realize them daily through a lived faith that expresses itself in service and mutual sharing. In this way God’s inextinguishable light will prevail over all forms of darkness.
Second reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
At a certain moment in life each one of us needs a spiritual message that can guide us through any presumed troubled time. It is such a grace that can assist us to comprehend that God’s love is also available for those we categorize as our enemies. Being true children of God, and if we are to truly understand that God loves all of us, we must recognize that He loves our enemies too. God does not share our hatred and our prejudices regardless of whether they are based on religion, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. All these are absolutely and utterly ridiculous in God’s eyes.
St Paul is convinced that Jesus Christ and his salvific efforts were intended to embrace all peoples in a universal and unifying grip. He understood that those so embraced could no longer subscribe to those ideologies and traditions that had formerly separated Jew from Gentile. On the contrary, “in Christ Jesus, we are all coheirs, members of the same body and sharers of the same promises that were made to Abraham” Genesis 12:1-3. These promises were formerly regarded as Jewish privileges from which the Gentiles were thought to be excluded. In Christ however “God’s secret plan” Ephesians 3:3 was clear. Since all these privileges are extended to all peoples, then, there is a completely new and totally welcome discovery.
Traditionally, the Jews regarded the Gentiles as having little worth. At best, the nations existed to serve the purpose of Israel: “The earnings of Egypt, the gain of Ethiopia and the Sabeans shall come to you; they shall follow you in chains. Before you, they shall fall prostrate” Isaiah 45:14. Although previously God’s plan was unknown to humankind, now it has been revealed and made possible through the efforts of the Holy Spirit. Privileged to be instrumental in the revelation and implementation of humankind’s universal unification in Christ, St Paul embraced it as a ministry. His enthusiasm for the realization of God’s plan is no doubt intended to be contagious such that we too can accept and exercise responsibility fit for it. While a global approach of implementation could prove scary, each of us is challenged to promote it as Christ’s partner in mission. This we can do face to face, heart to heart, one day at a time.
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
Today’s gospel says Herod was disturbed and other people in Jerusalem were also troubled because for them the birth of a Messiah was very bad news that the liberator was arriving. But for poor people, it was good news. Powerful people of that time had to know that the Messiah would be on their case because of neglecting stewardship entrusted to them. This same scenario may be taking place in any where today; for darkness can also take the form of political oppression where the poor and marginalized remain its ever-vulnerable prey. But the message we are to take away from this celebration and to implement daily is to learn to speak loudly and act openly against such darknesses. Christ has come among us. Christ continues to come today, in us and through us, to permeate the darkness that threaten justice and the well-being of God’s people and we have to be his active collaborators.
In addition to its political undertones, this gospel also underscores the universal character of the salvation God has wrought among us in Jesus. Clearly affirmed here is the truth that there is no one who is outside the agenda of God’s loving intent. Just as the Gospel of Luke includes a recount about shepherds having received a special revelation about Jesus and subsequently coming to visit Mary Joseph and the child; so does this Gospel portray a similar visit by Magi who have been led to their visitation of Jesus by a star. Both texts feature persons who would have been considered excluded from God’s saving plan. The shepherds were suspects because their lifestyle and livelihood sometimes led them outside the parameters of the law; while the Magi were non-Jews. Both Gospels make it clear that even those whom humankind, tradition or the law may exclude, are not excluded by God.
Indeed, the inclusion of such persons is in itself a revelation that challenges those who presume themselves to be among the chosen and the saved. In order to walk in the light of God’s truth, we too must cultivate a similar attitude toward all others. Mere tolerance is not enough. All of us are invited to go beyond tolerance to an active acceptance worthy of the God whose loving plan accepts all and rejects none. God desires that every human person be free of the darknesses of sin and evil so as to embrace the light of forgiveness, salvation and peace. As transparent emissaries of our God, as persons created in God’s image, our plans, our desires are to be reflections of God in every way.
Now that our Christmas visitors that is, the Angels, Shepherds and Magi are gone it is safe to admit that they were probably demanding even if they didn’t mean to be. When visitors are around they upset our routines because we are not totally in charge of our lives. Such special effort is nice, wonderful but also exhausting. Due to this inclination, there is the danger that we may treat Jesus as a Christmas visitor. Delighted to see him come especially when he arrives as a cute innocent child and one we do not have to feed or change or get up for. Jesus not a visitor to drive off to the bus park and wave him out of our lives once we have had enough once we have had enough of his divine cheer. Jesus is not some entertainer, charming us for a while until he returns from another side. Jesus is the Emmanuel who has came to stay, settled in and actually wants to become an integral part of our lives. Therefore Christmas becomes not the day when we pretend that Jesus is coming to visit us for the holidays; Christmas is the day when we celebrate that day when he came to live with us for good, let us welcome him joyfully as we prepare to transform our lives once and for all.