Today we celebrate the great Feast of Epiphany – the revelation, the manifestation, of God’s love for his people, in the birth of Jesus Christ, who is Emmanuel, God With Us. For centuries the prophets had proclaimed God’s love for his people, and now that love has been revealed in the most perfect way: God himself has been born into the world as a human child. God is not distant, aloof, uncaring. He is right with us, close to us in each moment, sharing life with us. He comes into our human condition to seek out what was lost, and to bring us back into union with himself.
This is good news for everyone; no one is excluded. The Psalm makes this clear: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” St. Paul also confirms this in the second reading. He speaks about the revelation which he has received: “the mystery was made known to me by revelation. … it has now been revealed … that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
The promise of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ is the great light which has been revealed for all peoples, for everyone. We who have seen the light are called then to arise and walk in that light, as we read in the prophecy from Isaiah: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the LORD shines upon you.” We are to radiate that light so that others can see and come into the light themselves: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you.”
But are we radiant? The question forces us to examine ourselves and probe our consciences. This week’s Spiritual Reflection from Pope Francis can help us. He describes three possible responses to the revelation of God’s presence with us, as we see in the Gospel reading. We do well today to ponder how much each of these ways of responding has taken root in our own hearts.
The response of the chief priests and the scribes is a non-response. They know all that has been prophesied about where and how the Messiah is to be born. Yet when the Magi come and say that they have seen signs of his birth, not one of the priests or scribes is even interested in the possibility that this might be true, that he might have come. They seem to be much more concerned with learning about the Messiah than in actually searching for him and welcoming him. It is as if the question of whether he is truly present in the world makes no real difference in their lives.
We are far into our celebration of the Christmas Season. Mother Church is joyfully proclaiming that God has come to us. Our Savior has been born! He is present with us, and he means to transform us so that we live no longer a purely natural life, but a new life in his Spirit. Do we rejoice at this news and make every effort to seek out his presence in our lives? Do we make use of prayer time, spiritual reading, and the Sacraments to make ourselves as open as possible to his working in us? Or are we indifferent, like the chief priests and scribes? Perhaps, in the secret of our minds and hearts, his coming has made very little real difference to us.
Next, we can ponder the response of Herod. He is not indifferent to the Magi’s proclamation that the longed-for Messiah has come. No, he is “greatly troubled.” He is afraid and angry. This child is a threat to him! Herod is the king, the one who rules. He has all the power, and he will not allow anyone to take it from him. Even a tiny newborn child must not be allowed to rival his claim to absolute authority. Herod determines to kill Jesus.
It is hard but necessary for us to recognize that we have within us some of Herod’s tendencies in our own response to God’s presence. We all have some degree of fear that God might take something from us, and anger about having to submit to some outside authority. Our self-will, our desire to decide for ourselves what is good or bad, what we will do and not do, is not dead. In our fallen human condition, we prefer to make our own rules, and exercise authority in our lives. Taken to an extreme, this tendency can lead us to reject God’s self-revelation, and to “kill” the stirrings of his grace in our hearts.
If we find indifference in our hearts, or even hostility towards God’s epiphany to us in Jesus Christ, we must humbly bring this problem before him and beg him to change our hearts to be more receptive to him. The only way that we can truly enter into the light of his presence is to follow the example of the Magi. As we read in the Gospel, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts.” Let us today prostrate ourselves before the Christ Child and offer him a true gift of self. Then we will see come to pass for us what Isaiah prophesied, “you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.”
In my life encounters, do I experience God as distant, aloof, or uncaring? How do I radiate the light of Christ so that others can see and come into the light themselves? Can I admit that I have within myself the tendency to “kill” the stirring of God’s grace in my heart?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.