Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year A 2020
This past week, I have received several phone calls and text messages from relatives and friends in Nigeria. They all want to know whether I am safe. Back in Nigeria, TV stations are reporting the havoc done by bushfires – the lives lost, properties and businesses ruined. “It is very sad what you guys are going through,” one caller said. Another just could not stomach the images he saw. “It is frightening,” he said. “The bushfires are simply traumatising. Take heart bros.”
I guess we all have our stories to tell. In the words of Bishop Columba of Wilcannia-Forbes diocese, “Sadly, we as a nation welcomed 2020 with great sadness as we watched bushfires engulf part of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The states of New South Wales and Victoria have declared a “State of emergency” which highlights the seriousness and devastation of these bushfires.” We are in the middle of a very serious crisis.
Notwithstanding the crisis, we have gathered here today. Perhaps we, like the Magi saw the star. The star that shone on us, led us and has brought us here to listen to the Good News, Evangelion as the Greeks call it. In many ways the good story that does not deny the reality of the crisis we are in but offers us a new response. It is a response of the human spirit. It is what we Australians know how to do best, to rally round those suffering and offer them our support, love.
Love is what defines us. It is what is natural to us. It is indeed our best response to every human being and human experience. In very simple terms, it is what the Epiphany of Christ is all about. We hear in the Gospel reading how God’s response to the pagan world, their idolatry and their barbaric behaviour was to offer them a new life. He began by appearing to them in the form of a star, a different sort of star that signals the difference the new life can offer them.
A star that appeared to them not when all was well with them, but when they were still in darkness of sin. This star never stopped appearing. It has appeared, and it is still appearing even in the midst our bushfires. It is up there. We can all see it. It is leading us out of our helplessness. It is pointing us to the Christ child resting in the manger. But like Herod, many of us feel threatened by Christ. We do not want to hear about Christ because He opposes our way of life.
We feel He will compete with us, take away something from us, inhibit our freedom and interfere with our lives. We are afraid of what would become of us if we were to follow Him. So, we scheme around trying to get rid of Him. But if Herod had known that the Christ child was coming to enhance his kingship, he would have benefitted more by submitting to Him than by trying to kill Him. Perhaps, if we can let go our fears, we will find out that Christ is for us.
He manifested Himself to the Magi just to assure them that He was for them. They are part of His Body. And He the Head will do everything to protect them, to see to their safety. Paul Hanson captures this assurance beautifully in his commentary on the first reading. “Chapter 60 (of Isaiah) opens with the announcement of light breaking forth in darkness as an image of God’s saving entry into the brokenness of human bondage and suffering.” He is God with us.
God is still with us. He is right here with us. He is in our struggle. He is with the firefighters, saving lives. Let us respond to His call to serve. Let us not ignore His presence like the chief priests and the scribes did. They knew the details about His coming in the Christ child. They had the all the data about Him. But they were so caught up in their own world that they were totally indifferent to Him. To them, Christ’s presence meant nothing. It was same ol’, same ol!
But for the Magi, the revelation of Christ meant everything. It so captured them that they left their old ways. They bracketed all they had known and opened themselves to what God was revealing to them as the star guided them. They allowed themselves to be guided, taught through the journey. Thus, when they finally knew what God has done by becoming man, they opened their treasures and gave the Christ child gold, frankincense and myrrh. They gave Him their all. And we should likewise give our all to help those battling with the fires.
While these gifts speak of who Christ was for them: gold, Christ is their King, the One who rules over them and they can depend on; frankincense, Christ is their priest, the One who is the Bridge-Builder, who leads them to God; and myrrh, that the Christ is going to die for them. These gifts also say something about them, the givers. Gold, that they have come to submit their pride and power to the true King. Frankincense that they have sacrificed their wealth to live for God alone. Myrrh, that they will not let pleasure stand in the way of God’s purposes.
When they had given their all, the Gospel says, “But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.” This most likely means they were transformed. It signalled what we had earlier said, the new life. Everything became new for them. They were no longer living in the darkness of their old ways, but they were now living in the newness of God’s possibility; that God became man meant anything is possible. In our context, it also means anything is possible. That hope is never lost.
That the God who manifested Himself to us is at work even in our reality of bushfires. He wants us to offer Him our hands to fight the fires. He wants us to offer Him our ears, to hear the cry of those grieving their losses. He wants us to give Him our eyes, to see where help is needed, and do something about it as St. Mary of the Cross Mackillop urges us. He wants us to give Him our heart, to empathise with His children, enter their mess, reorder their whole lives to Him who alone can make all things new as He did in the stable at Bethlehem.
Fr. Francis Afu