Sunday, January 6, 2019

WHAT GIFT WILL YOU BRING HIM?: a homily for the Feast of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1–12)

I remember one Christmas day as we were having breakfast my mother heard a child crying and when she went outside there was a young traveler boy just outside our front door.  He had hurt his ankle and could not walk.  It was bitterly cold and he had only a thin jacket and shorts on while on his feet were a pair of wellies.   My mother brought him in and sat him down at our table.  She took the boot off the injured foot and checked it for any injury.  Once she had made sure he was ok, that it was only a sprain and she had strapped it up, she gave him breakfast.  I wasn’t too happy having a traveler sit at our breakfast table but the memory has stayed with me and its lesson: charity comes first and one never turns away a human being in need.   It was also a lesson in the real meaning of what it is to be a Christian.

Three events are celebrated today in this one feast:  the visit of the wise men to Jesus in Bethlehem,  our Lord's Baptism in the Jordan and his turning the water into wine at Cana.  Each of these events is a revelation of the glory of God's presence in our Lord.  The wise come to Bethlehem lead by a star.  People back then did not view the sky as we do.  The stars belonged to a level next to God.  Their movements reflected God’s plan for the world.  That this star appears and disappears shows us it was no ordinary heavenly event but a spiritual one.  These men used their reason to navigate by the stars and that reason has brought them to Bethlehem to meet our Lord the source of all reason and of creation itself.  They rightly bring Him Kingly gifts in tribute, gifts that point to who He is and what He will suffer.

At Cana our Lord, prompted by His Mother, took on the role of bridegroom and, turning water into the best wine, provided a sign that He is the true Bridegroom of Israel come to wed mankind to Himself.  He is the one to liberate us from our useless way of life and give us the truth, the best wine of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. He revealed His glory in the meekness with which He listened to His Mother and responded to her.  Their lack of wine is a symbol of the lack of real love and the best wine is a symbol of the joy that comes only from communion with God.

At His baptism he showed publicly for the first time the depth of His humility when He who needed no purification, indeed is the source of all purification, chose to identify with sinners.  By His descent into the waters of Jordan He sanctified all water.  In response to His humility the Father and the Spirit affirmed His Sonship, a Sonship we share in through baptism.  He immersed Himself in the Jordan so that we could be immersed into His death and His resurrection.  John’s baptism was a mere sign that our Lord has made a Sacrament for it truly gives what it signifies: it cleanses of sin and refreshes the soul with eternal life. 

Our Lord came to transform our lives and our world and He deserves our worship and love.  He came to immerse Himself in our human nature so that we could, through Him, be immersed into His Divine Nature.  He came to turn the stale water of human love into the living water of God's love.
He did not come with armies and the force of His will but with gentleness and merciful love.  He did not come with power to dominate us into being holy.  He did not come to violate our freedom but to make it possible for it to flourish into holiness.

Our Lord reveals His glory in His humility.  He has made Himself vulnerable for us in the crib and on the cross.  In this He reveals His gentleness and His power.  It is through giving Himself away, through sacrifice,  that He conquers.   He revealed His glory in His humility by accepting baptism from John, a symbolic baptism, but one for repentance.  In identifying with sinners, the sinless one has offered us hope.  He comes not to condemn but to justify, to set us free and make us holy.

So today and in this season we celebrate the glorious humility of God who has become fully human for us.  We celebrate His love, His self-sacrifice, and His mercy.  If we do not experience the joy of these truths it is not His fault.  They are available to us in the Sacraments.  They are available to us in stillness and prayer.  They are available to us for the asking.

Since He is so good to us, since He loves us so much how then ought we to respond?  What thanks, what gifts can we offer the One who saves us from eternal death?   He has given us the answer: to believe in Him, to love Him and to love our neighbour, to avoid evil and to do good.  These are the simple steps that mean we are following Christ.  These are the steps to holiness, to eternal life.

If we are not seeking to be holy then we are not really Catholic.  By holy I do not mean ‘pious’ or ‘devout’; those are good things but not necessarily signs of holiness.  Holiness is being right with God and our neighbour.  To be holy is to seek the will of God in everything and the will of God is not hard to know – just do the duties of your state of life while seeking to avoid evil, that is, sin and do good.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The greatest gift we can offer the Lord is to seek to do the will of His Father.  

We have been given an infinite gift in Christ.  Like all gifts it must be unwrapped.  If we really know Christ then we cannot keep Him to ourselves but must share Him with others above all in the way we behave.  We will want to share Him with everyone, even the traveler, the immigrant, or the homeless at our door.  So in this Christmas season do your best to share the good news that God has become man for us by how you treat those around you: point your anger away from others, try to be patient, kind and generous, forgive others and show them the mercy God has shown you.

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