Every January we reflect back on the year that had passed to assess the bad and the good. At the same time we look forward to the year that has already begun, holding out some hope that this year will be better than those that preceded it. Those of us who have undertaken this ritual for decades realize the futility of the endeavor if we only look at the human dimension: war and poverty will still ravage the earth, injustices will continue, and our home town sports teams will find new ways to disappoint us. However, the readings for today’s feast of the Epiphany provide us with the supernatural dimension that finds God present even in the midst of these annual calamities.
The prophet Isaiah undertook his ministry during one of the most difficult and painful chapters of Israel’s history: the Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Temple had been ravaged, and the people of God were held captive in a foreign land for decades. There were few expectations of brighter days with the marking of each New Year. And yet Isaiah proclaims a message of hope to the people: God’s light still shines upon us even in the midst of these troubles. What is more, God will send a Savior who will restore Israel and bring all nations into unity with her in worshipping the one true God. The prophetic imagination has the ability to see the hope amidst the ruins. It takes a deep faith to pierce through the gloom of calamities, but God is still present and the promises of God are always faithful.
The ministry of Paul was certainly filled with peaks and valleys. More often than not, however, Paul experienced hardship and opposition in proclaiming the Gospel. Ephesus was a great city in the ancient world, immensely wealthy and filled with pagan temples, bustling markets, theatres and spectacles of all sorts. We tend to romanticize Ephesus because of Paul’s ministry there, as well as John’s time spent there and the tradition that Mary the Mother of Jesus had lived her last days there. However, those events of Christian history occurred on the margins of the city. Great opposition to the Gospel was the prevailing sentiment. And yet the passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is again a message of hope: the Gentiles are now connected to the one true God through person of Jesus. Gentiles now have the same hope that the people of Israel have had throughout their history. No amount of opposition or discouragement can separate us from this reality of God’s abiding love for all people.
The Gospel text provides us with the story of the wise men from the East coming to find the newborn king of the Jews. The human dimensions of the story are familiar enough to us as they present to us the injustices with which we are so accustomed from age to age: the jealousy and fear of worldly rulers, the murders and atrocities to support corrupt power, the lies and intrigue used to trap people of good will. Yet, in the midst of such evil we see God at work, guiding these Gentiles from the east and protecting Mary, Joseph, and their child. We might find God’s intervention mysterious and foreign to us as we don’t often experience God speaking to us in dreams. Yet, for those who are attuned to listening to the voice of God there is the realization that God often chooses very ordinary means to speak to us. God is present right in our midst, guiding us if we but let him do so.
Very often we overlook God’s voice and presence because we are looking for something dramatic: an apparition or vision in some far distant place, the face of Jesus on my breakfast pancake, or a loud booming voice shaking the earth. The fundamental truth of our existence, however, is that God is near to us, very near. We need not search far and wide for what is right in front of us. There is an eastern story of a man who took his boat from shore to see what the other shore was like. After an arduous journey the man discovers that he was back at the very shore from which he began. The point of the story is that all shores are alike when it comes to discovering the mystery and presence of God, for God is present on every shore, including our own. The great celebration of Epiphany is the realization that the one true God who had chosen the people of Israel so long ago is present to and accessible to all peoples at all times.
As we celebrate God’s presence among us and discern his mystery in our lives, we pray for the wisdom to see God and his love in the midst of the ruins of the world: “Let us pray, grateful for the glory revealed today through God made man. Father of light, unchanging God, today you reveal to men of faith the resplendent fact of the Word made flesh. Your light is strong, your love is near; draw us beyond the limits which this world imposes, to the life where Your Spirit make all life complete. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is chancery chief of staff and director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.usccb.org
Monday, January 9
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
or Isaiah 55:1-11
or Acts 10:35-38 or 1 John 5:1-9
Psalms 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 or
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6.
Tuesday, January 10
1 Samuel 1:9-20 or
1 Samuel 1:1-8
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd or Psalms 116:12-13, 14-17, 18-19
Wednesday, January 11
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20
Psalms 40:2 and 5, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10
Thursday, January 12
1 Samuel 4:1-11
Psalms 44:10-11, 14-15, 24-25
Friday, January 13
1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22a
Psalms 89:16-17, 18-19
Saturday, January 14
1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
Psalms 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday January 15
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.