Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Eph 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matt 2: 1-12
By Cosmas Okechukwu Ebebe
This is a brand-new year. We are invited to 'arise and shine' because our light has come and 'the glory of the Lord' has come upon us. This beautiful invitation should be accompanied by a brand-new resolve to commitment in the walking in the way of salvation. God is inviting us to greater intimacy in our love relationship with him. As invitees, each one of us has a decision to make: to arise and shine. It is a mark of ingratitude if we decide not to heed the invitation.
2. God's Message of Love in the Readings Today
God’s message of love can come in the hard way. It is not always that love is sweet or easy. Imagine that two persons were put in an entirely dark prison. They did not know whether it was day or night. Every hour was dark. But their prison term made provision for them to be allowed to see through a window at some intervals known to the warders alone. The day came that they were invited to see the outside of their prison through the window. Ten minutes was allotted to each of them for looking outside. One of them looked up to the sky.
He saw the sun and the clouds. He saw birds flying in the sky and the trees in distant places looking like they were touching the sky. His ten minutes was over. He smiled and thanked God for creating a beautiful world. The other looked down through the same window. He saw earthworms and mess on the surrounding. He saw the filth on the ground, pigs and dirty creatures walking the dirty environment. His ten minutes were over and his dark hours resumed. He sighed and reclined on the wall of the prison. And Isaiah tells us in the first reading today to see the good things around us: “Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then, you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice; because the abundance of the sea shall come to you” (Isaiah 60: 4-5) In this new year, the issue of care for environment is introduced with reference to the abundance of the sea. How can the sea yield when we care less for nature and the environment?
Epiphany is sometimes called the Christmas of the Gentiles. It is God's outpouring of his benevolent love to the none Jews. Within weeks of the birth of the Messiah, the Gentiles were brought into the fold. The birth of Jesus which took place in Jewish land was mysteriously announced to the wise men from the East through the natural science of horoscope. The star of the new born king was seen in the East and the wise men came. Those wise men accepted the invitation of God to participate in mystery of the incarnation. The gentiles were made partakers in the birth of Jesus even before Herod the Jew knew that the 'born king of the Jews' was in his domain. The wise men still met the boy Jesus in the manger where he was born. Perhaps, apart from the shepherds who shared the manger with Mary and Joseph, the hierarchy of the Gentile world witnessed to the birth of Jesus before the Jews. While the wise men (gentiles) were going to welcome Jesus, Herod and his cabinet (Jew) wanted to kill Jesus as a rival to the throne. Jesus was later to dispel the fears of Herod and of all the Herods of all ages that His kingdom is not of this world.
Love begets love and love fosters love. The wise men gave Jesus gifts from their treasures: gold, frankincense and Myrrh. Gold stands for kingship, frankincense for royalty and myrrh as a preparatory oil for his death. In the gifts of the wise men, the life of Jesus was x-rayed even as he lay on the laps of the parents. In the visit of the Maggi or wise men is fulfilled the prophesy that 'all nations of the earth shall fall prostate before you, O Lord'. The surrender of our earthly treasures to Jesus is an invitation keyed into the feast of epiphany. The wise men did not just send across the gifts to Jesus. When they arrived and saw the child with Mary his mother, 'they feel down and worshipped him.' There is a further invitation to us to love and to give gifts. We need not just send across gifts to others. Where feasible and possible, we visit.
To God in the manger, we should visit, kneel down and worship the new born king Jesus.
The 'double speak' of King Herod is also brought to our attention on this feast of Epiphany. He summoned the three wise men and told them to go and search diligently for the child with the assurance that “I too may come and worship him”. Within him even as he spoke, he was intent on killing the infant Jesus. Our attention is drawn to our own versions of cleverness, where we say what we do not mean and turn around to mean what we do not say with our lips. Double-speak is terrible in leadership but the temptation is there as shown by Herod. The antidote to double speaks is holding on to truth as our sole investment even when many persons are involved. When someone is resolved to tell the truth of the matter, even when many people come to ask at different times, the main interest will remain the same even when the packaging of the speech may differ according to circumstances and persons. Shying away from bearing testimony to the truth is the cause and source of 'double speak'.
Epiphany is a page in the mystery of Jesus Christ. It is not human conjecture and it has no duplicate. That the Wise Men saw the stars is a mystery. That they understood the sign of the star may be science which again remains a mystery of God. The choice of birth place of Jesus is as written by the prophet who was God's mouth piece: “And you O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall a ruler who will govern my people”. The Choice of Bethlehem is a mystery best known to God. We can rationalize so as to digest the reality but we cannot influence the reality that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God is constantly making choices of persons for various posts and assignment among mortal, some of which we might have witnessed recently. It remains in the mystery of God who, which, where and when to choose. The 'why' and the 'how' of God's choice remains in his mystery. But mortals are always involved in actualizing the mystery of God
Basking in the mysteries of the Epiphany, we move forward in this new year knowing that in the mystery made known by revelation, there is no more division between Jews and Gentiles in any shed or form “Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the same promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”(Eph 3: 6) Why the divisions among us and the artificial creation of “Jews” and “Gentiles” in towns and parishes? The new year calls for healing as “All nations on earth shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord” (Psalm 72: 11). In the presence of God, can we still be elbowing our neighbour out of God's presence? All hands are invited to be on deck in working out our salvation.
3. Take Home: Pick Your Broom
Love of God invites us to do something and not remain passive, possibly complaining about situations not being in order. Story has it that on one occasion, Bishop Michael Eneja of Enugu Diocese (1919-2008) went on pastoral visit to a remote parish. He always arrived at the venue for any event long before the time. He knew his priest and knew the zeal of the parish in question. The Bishop went straight to the Parish Church, a little distance to the Parish House. He noticed that the place was not yet cleaned. He saw someone coming with a broom. He requested and was given the broom. He began sweeping the Church premises. News spread. The Parish priest rushed to welcome him. He pleading with the bishop to let him sweep instead. “Pick your own broom” replied the Bishop. The Catechist knelt to receive the broom of the Parish priest who told him, “Pick your own broom”. The Church Wardens and Choristers seeing the Bishop, Priest and Catechist at work picked their own brooms. In minutes both the inside and outside of the Church were cleaned. In addition, volunteers rushed to decorate the arena. May we all pick our brooms to express in our own ways, the great love shown by Christ through the Epiphany. We can make the world a better place rather than complain.