Feast of the Epiphany
Sunday, Jan. 3rd, 2016
The Scriptures for today present us with accounts of journeys and gifts. In the first reading, Isaiah share a vision of the nations pressing toward Jerusalem, bearing gifts to present to God; and not just ordinary gifts, but precious gifts: the abundance of the sea, the wealth of the nations, gold and frankincense. The Psalm continues the same theme: the Kings of Tarshish and the isles will render tribute and the Kings of Sheba and Seba will bring gifts. Finally, Matthew recounts the visit of the wise men from the East who come bearing precious gifts for the newborn King of the Jews.
Presented with these images, we might very well ask ourselves what we are to bring to present to God. It is a question that has been pondered through the ages. Eight centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Micah asked “what shall I bring and present before the Lord: holocausts, calves a year old, thousands of rams, myriad streams of oil, my firstborn?” God’s answer, spoken to and through the prophet, was simple: “act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with God”.
What does it mean for us, in 2016, as individuals and a community to act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with God?
To act justly: As individuals, and as a community, it means that we are to advocate for justice, for equality, for the dignity of each person, for the environment, for peace. It is important for us to speak up, to sign petitions, to support groups and efforts that work build a better world. But it is not enough, for example, simply to sign the Development and Peace cards that were available at the door of the church in advance of the Climate Conference and feel that our work has been done. We must also put our words into action. Having signed the card, now I have to live in a particular way as well, reducing my consumption, being more mindful about the amount of waste I produce, walking, biking or using public transit rather than always driving where I need to go, and the list goes on.
Likewise, we are called to action when we see discrimination, marginalization, violence against the vulnerable, and the list goes on. Jesus’ example and teaching in the Gospels reminds us that we are to be people of action, not just of words.
To love tenderly: Being disciples of Jesus, we are to work to build God’s kingdom in our world. We are called to forgive those who have hurt us and to ask forgiveness of those whom we have hurt. In our relationships and in all our words and actions, we are called to be instruments of healing and reconciliation. Certainly, Jesus challenges us to be generous and to be welcoming to all.
In the images presented in the readings, it would be easy to welcome those who were coming to Jerusalem and Bethlehem – they were bearing precious gifts, the “wealth of the nations”. Who wouldn’t welcome such individuals and groups!? Are we as welcoming of those who come without rich gifts: the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the poverty-stricken and the unemployed, immigrants and refugees. There seemed to be a policy developing of only choosing Syrian refugees who were Christian; so what about the Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists who are fleeing violence and persecution? Would we be welcoming of all from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Honduras, central Africa and many others who are different from us? Are we willing to recognize the inherent dignity of each person and afford them the respect and welcome that we would wish for ourselves if we were in similar circumstances?
To walk humbly: God has given us all we are and all we have. We have not earned or paid for the gift of life, for creation, for God’s love for us, for our intelligence, talents, gifts: all is a free gift from God. This leads us to an attitude of profound gratitude to God for all we have been given. We also then recognize that anything that we present to God, anything we do is merely an acknowledgement of who God is and who we are before God. God has blessed us richly and challenges us to share the blessings with those around us, trusting that God’s generosity towards us will not fail. As we bless others with the gifts God has given us, we will be blessed in turn.
In December Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of Mercy. As he opened the Holy Door, a symbol of God’s love and mercy, Pope Francis reminded us that those who pass through the door will experience the love of God, who consoles, pardons, instills hope. He went on to express that hope that Church doors throughout the world are to be open so that all people, without exception, may know the visceral love and mercy of God. While each Diocese or region is to have a designated Holy Door for the Holy Year, Pope Francis wants the doors of each church to open to welcome all who come. And as people come, it is up to us, as a parish and as individuals to be welcoming, to share the gift of God’s love and mercy.
Just as each of us is part of the Church, the Body of Christ, so each of us is called to open our hearts and to be a door of mercy for others. This is what God asks us to present as we celebrate Epiphany.