The Solemnity of the Epiphany
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6, Eph 3:2-3, 5-6, Mt 2:1-12]
We are all familiar with terms such as global warming, air pollution, water pollution, but I heard a new one just recently — light pollution. Light pollution comes from large cities at night. These cities are so lit up that you can’t see the stars. When the Abbot of Snowmass Monastery in Colorado was here, he was surprised at the clearness of the sky around our monastery. He thought only Colorado had good star vision. He even pointed out Andromeda, our nearest galaxy and said it is rare to be able to see it with the naked eye.
But I would venture to guess that even with this wonderful night sky that we have, most of us don’t often notice the stars. We are too busy. We might look up occasionally, but rarely do we take the time to carefully examine the night sky. So when we read about the stars in today’s Gospel, we do what we usually do—give it a glance and move on to the more dramatic part of the story where King Herod does some double dealing with the Magi and is himself duped in the end. Even though we didn’t spend much time with the star, we do pause and wonder about it. Was it real? Did it happen? Is there a record of a new star or a super-nova appearing at this time? Commentators try to answer our questions but their answers, at the best, are not satisfying. So our scientific mind dismisses it, and we move on—seeing little connection with our starless life. Yet there is something about the star that intrigues us. It is appealing to a side of us seldom used. It appeals to our heart more than our mind. Matthew must have had a reason to make it part of the story. Everything else in the Gospel has a purpose—Herod, the High Priests and scribes. Their purpose is theological rather than historical. What about the star? As I said, scripture scholars give us all kinds of reasons based on the science of the times and what astrologers were all about. This was Matthew’s way of telling us that the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah was open to all nations and all peoples—not just the Jews. But beyond that, the star leads us to a place not easily accessible to us. Stars appeal to the poet in us. Stars speak to our imagination. At the end of today’s Gospel, the Magi receive a message in a dream that saves their lives.
Dreams and stars, even mountains and wells enter our life through the back door as it were—through our unconscious life. We tend to dismiss them because we are not really sure what they are doing to us. We don’t like to follow along an unknown path through the desert or into the forest at night. We cannot calculate their effect, or measure what is going on. We cannot control or predict the outcome.
The Magi represent all who did follow a call, an intuition, a dream without knowing the outcome. They followed reason but also their heart. Where did it lead them? I like to combine the vision of Isaiah with the climax of today’s Gospel. Isaiah sees people from all over the world streaming toward Jerusalem, radiant with what they see, overflowing with joy.
The star halts over a place. The Magi enter the house and find Jesus in the arms of His Mother. This is the center of the universe. God manifested to the whole world in the Child Jesus. Nothing could be more inviting, less threatening. No one fears to approach. All are invited to adore and give whatever they have as an offering of themselves. The presence is within us, but is not of us. God is wholly other yet with us. We have found someone to adore other than ourselves. We have found the one to whom we can give ourselves without loss of our self.
“ . . . They saw the child with his mother Mary and falling to their knees they did him homage.” Mt. 2:11
The Solemnity of the Epiphany
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12]
They say that if the Wise Men would had been women they would have been on
time and brought sensible gifts! Being on time is not as important in the
Bible as it evidently is in modern day America.
Time in the Bible is more fluid, more an approximation of times and dates.
But today’s scripture readings do tell us something about time. After all we
are all on a journey from time to eternity. It is a real tension for us. To
be in time means to be surrounded by change and we crave the unchangeable.
We are always looking for the eternal element in time and it is always
eluding our grasp. What is it or who is it we can trust not to change. Other
people? They are forever changing. The elements? A tornado can demolish our
house or take the roof right off this Church. Our health. This is the least
trustworthy of all. We can be fine today and have a terminal illness tomorrow.
As we journey on in life we realize there is just not that much solid ground,
not that much rock bottom certainty in life in which I can take a stand. Is
there a center anywhere? There doesn’t seem to be a center to the universe. I
can see why people got so upset with Galileo. He displaced the center. Living
in time as we do we long to be out of time and yet change is our great
friend. We cannot conceive of a life that never changes, that doesn’t have
the rhythm of time, past, present and future. What do the readings today reveal to us? What do they disclose about our
lives in time?
The first reading is from Isaiah and is addressed to a community that just
came out of exile. They are a people badly in need of stability. They need a
secure home. A place that will never be taken from them. The prophet Isaiah
promises them just such a place. He paints it as the center of the world.
People are coming from East and West. They are coming on land and sea.
Throngs of people all streaming to Jerusalem. Ships from Tarshis, Kings for
Midian. But is this a real place? Read the whole chapter. The city of
Jerusalem is not mentioned once. This is a spiritual place not a temporal
place, it is out of time. Isaiah gets us very excited about this center of
the universe but where is it?
Let’s look in on the Gospel story. We see three Magi following a star. They
too are on a journey. The star is helpful, appealing. It is fixed,
unchanging, representing a certainty we lack on earth. But it is so far away
and besides it is a pointer not a goal. Where does it bring the Magi? To a
house-a place. Does the house exist? Do the Magi exist? The star? Yes, they
all do because they are us. We are reading our own story. How does it end?
Listen to the Good News: “ . . . going into the house they saw the child with
his mother and falling down to their knees they did him homage.”
They have arrived. They found the center. And what is it? It is two real
human beings. It is the Madonna and Child. It is Mary and Jesus. Here is the
center. This human and divine relationship so tenderly expressed. We have
found it. We kneel and adore. Time ceases.
So on our journey from time to eternity, we have to realize we are not going
to a place called heaven that is like a house on earth only larger. St. Paul
says we cannot even imagine what it might be like. But we can say that heaven
is not so much a place as it is a relationship. Today’s Gospel introduces us
to this relationship. The Magi in adoration become part of the relationship
of Mary and the Child Jesus. The human and divine. We, too, enter into that
Today’s feast is called the Epiphany, the manifestation. It is the revelation
we have been searching for, the permanent in time. The center on which we
stand. Yet when we find this place, when it is manifested to us, we feel
compelled to kneel for this is a sacred spot, a holy place, a divine and
The Solemnity of the Epiphany
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6, Eph 3:2-6, Mt 2:1-12]
Many of our Cistercian communities in the US are in some sort of building project. They usually start in a very modest way with the renovation of the church or the guest house or some other building, but as they go along either the architect or the community itself realizes this is going to be very expensive and wouldn’t it be better to build a whole new building rather than try to fix up this old barn! This in turn starts a chain reaction and before you know it four or five buildings or wings are involved and everyone is hollering, “We need a master plan”! So after months they come back to square one and start work on a master plan – one that that takes everything into account. All the buildings and the grounds, what is sometimes called the “surround.” In a good master plan everything fits together and you have control of how it will work out from start to finish, or at least you should have control.
This is true of buildings and wouldn’t it be nice if life had a master plan we could control? One that makes everything fit and that we could control from start to finish? If there is such a plan it only exists in the mind of God and not in us. Trying to fit life into an overall plan is not a very popular idea but does that mean there is no plan at all, that each of us is adrift in the world to do the best we can? Is there any discernible structure to life?
I believe our liturgy is based on a plan, a plan of salvation history. As the seasons follow one another a great and mysterious panorama of salvation is placed before us. By juxtaposing certain passages of Scripture, the Church highlights some segment of God’s mind for us to contemplate. Today, God’s mind is revealed as opening salvation to all people. The reading are very clear on this. The original context of the Scripture passages take on new meanings when they are joined this way. The unifying principle, the star if you will, guiding the Church in its choices is Christ. He is our star. We are like the magi as we search for words about Christ in the Scriptures and the Liturgy. Take the first reading from Isaiah. Originally a rhapsody on Jerusalem meant for the returning exiles it becomes for us a wedding song of Christ and the soul of the believer. “Arise shine out for your light has come, the glory of [Jesus] has risen on you. … Lift up your eyes and look around. On you [Jesus] is rising, over you his glory can be seen.” (Is 60:1-4)
In the second reading Paul tells us this union is meant for everyone. Then we have the beautiful story in the Gospel of the magi finding Jesus in the arms of his Mother. This is the climax of our liturgy of the Word. It is really the center of revelation. St. Augustine tells us, “What person knows the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Jesus, concealed in the poverty of his flesh”? If we search for Jesus as the Magi did, our star is the poverty of his flesh. Where does it lead us? Right back to square one – our own life. It teaches us how to read our life as we read Scripture: to be empty and see, to be still and know. He laid down his life for us and we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. He emptied himself taking the form of a slave. All this forms a pattern for us to follow. It is a pattern encoded in our being because it is in God’s very being. It is the mystery we are about to enact in the Eucharist and in our daily life. It can be as simple and profound as accepting the poverty of our flesh as it ages and as we are dispossessed of our abilities. This too is taken up into the plan of God in Jesus. It is Jesus taking possession of us, his light shining as a star over us. He is the center of our life and so we bow down in adoration of Christ in us, our hope of salvation.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany
[Scripture Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Mt 2:1-12 ]
A little over a year ago I came across a poem entitled, “In the Middle of the Road.” It is a rather outlandish poem that keeps repeating phrases like, “in the middle of the road there was a stone, there was a stone in the middle of the road…” This seems to be the main message of this single image poem. But for some reason it has stuck and comes to mind frequently.
Just the other day I thought of it when I heard about a five year old girl who was an angel in the Christmas pageant. Her mother overheard her telling her little friend who was a shepherd, “Angels are more important than shepherds”! There is a stone in the middle of the road. Children are so endearing to us because they do not hide their feelings. They just come straight out and say what is on their minds. As we grow older we learn to hide our more embarrassing thoughts. We want to be more important than others but we would never come out and say it. Herod in today’s Gospel is an example of ambition out of control. He is willing to lie and cheat and even to kill to stay on top — to make sure he is number one. Herod is the stone in the middle of this Gospel story of light. Matthew places him as a figure of darkness right in the middle of the road leading to light.
The Magi represent the nations of the earth attracted to light and salvation. From the limits of the known world, they journey guided by a star to the center — a sacred place where thev kneel and worship. The words, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother” makes the Madonna and Child the center of the spiritual world.
The star in the story attracts our attention. It touches our imagination. It makes us look up — it is lightsome and filled with romance and magic. Herod on the other hand is a stone – heavy and burdensome, pulling us downward, an obstacle in our path. The Magi on their journey encountering Herod and finally arriving at the Madonna and Child is really an image of our journey.
When St. Benedict died two monks received a revelation about his journey. “They saw a magnificent road covered with rich carpeting and glittering with thousands of lights. From the monastery it stretched eastward in a straight line up to heaven. And there in the brightness stood a man of majestic appearance who asked them, “Do you know who passed this way?” “No,” they replied. “This,” he told them, “is the road taken by blessed Benedict when he went to heaven.”
We are all on this road. Only when we arrive will we realize that it was glittering with a thousand lights. Right now it appears to be strewn with stones. A few days ago we celebrated the feast of the first American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. In a letter to her sisters she said, “an interior life means but the continuation of our Savior’s life in us; …the great object of all his mysteries is to merit for us the grace of his interior life and communicate it to us, it being the end of his mission to lead us to the sweet land of promise, a life of continual union with himself.”
Today we are celebrating the manifestation of Christ to the world. This means that our life will be illuminated, manifested with his since we are one. As we worship with the Magi this morning, bowing toward Christ our center, let us yearn for that sweet land of promise, continual union with Jesus and let us pray that we all may become one body, one spirit in Christ.