The epiphany of the Epiphany: The Wise Men r Us

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Copyright: Wonderlane used with permission.

The wise men r us.

By that I mean they are that vast reach of overlooked humanity that had no part in God’s Covenant with Abraham. The wise men are you and me, who will be, at long last and as St Paul put it, “grafted” onto the original tree of life that God planted when He raised up first a man and his wife, then their family, and finally, a people, to be the flame of flickering light in the darkness of fallen humanity.

We sorta know the story of the Wise Men. We’ve seen it acted out in Christmas pageants when, at the end of the story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the manger, three little boys walk in to the tune of We Three Kings. They are wearing bathrobes made of shiny fabric and carrying three boxes marked “gold,” “frankincense” and “myrrh.”

The little boys put their boxes next to a makeshift manger which holds a doll wrapped in a baby blanket. Meanwhile a little girl, dressed in a her mother’s bathrobe and a little boy dressed in his dad’s, look on. The shepherds are already there, along with a couple of little girl angels.

It’s Christmas and the people rise to sing Joy to the World with the gusto of those who know in their hearts that this story, however simply it is told, is true.

These Christmas pageants are simple, fun and they do tell the essential story. But the layers upon layers of meaning that the story holds are not touched. That’s to the good, of course, since belief lies not in layers of understanding but in the simplicity of ultimate truth.

Christmas is about the end of the endless night of ultimate hopelessness. It is the story of The Light breaking into human history. As such, the simplicity of small-church Christmas pageants are all we need to tell the story.

But for those who want to look past the dust jacket on the story, the questions and the answers are there. Before Jesus, God’s direct work with humanity had been limited to this smallish family turned nation that He had settled smack along the most important trade route of the ancient world. The bread basket of Egypt, the spices and riches of the East, traveled along this narrow way near the sea on their journey to Europe.

Rome fed off this route, as had numerous empires before it. Of all the places in the ancient world, the one most likely to be fought over, invaded, battered and beaten, was this one. Why did God put His people here?

My guess is that it was because the story of the Jews is not just the story of the Jews. It is the story of Jesus’ family. The Bible itself is, from the first page to the last, the story of Jesus, of God’s redemption of us, all of us, everywhere. He chose to send His redemption first through a man and his wife, then through a family and finally through a single nation.

When Jesus was born, He repeated the story and went back, once again, to a man and woman, a husband and wife. It seems that God always begins His beginnings with humanity with family.

The Chosen people were chosen, as God told Abraham, “to be a blessing.” They job was to bring that first flickering point of light to the world at large. The nation of Israel was in the one best place best situated for sending the message of redemption to the whole world. The location that made it a perilous location of great political and economic interest, also made it the perfect jumping-off place for spreading the Good News outward until it met itself circling the globe.

Thus Jesus, when He finally came, was a Jew, born to Jews in a vassal Jewish nation residing in the crook of the elbow of the ancient economy.

He was, from the beginning, the Light of the World. Not, notice, the light of the Jews. Jesus, a Jew, born of Jews, came for every person who walked the planet. Salvation came from the Jews, but it was for us all.

That is the meaning of the Epiphany. It is the underlying message of God calling three wise men to, as the hymn says, “traverse afar” in their quest to find Him. These men were not Jews. They were us, the unsaved sea of humanity that had been, up until then, standing outside the door.

The epiphany of the Epiphany is that we are part of the story now. Salvation came from the Jews, but it is no longer theirs alone. From the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, He called all humanity to Himself. It began with three men who followed a star and it is unfolding to this day.

Pope Francis surprised the pundits this week by raising up cardinals from far-flung locations about the world, many of which are places where Christians suffer desperate persecution. The mustard seed is just being planted in some of these lands. Those cardinals are the successors to the wise men.

… the Gospel must be preached to all nations, Jesus told us.

And it will be.

And it is.

Like every other story of humankind, the story of our salvation begins with a man, a woman, and a baby. It begins with a family, and it ends with eternal life.

Mixed into this story is the tale of three wise men who “traversed afar” to pay homage to a newborn king laid in a manger in a stable. They visited the Romans’ vassal king of that land, King Herod, on their way to Him. In doing so, they alerted a ruthless and insecure man to a potential threat. Their indiscretion cost the lives of innocent children, executed by King Herod in a drive to safeguard his throne against prophecy. They were the trigger that sent Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus into exile in Egypt.

Their part in the story of salvation, was germinal in every way. But the most important part of it is also the most often overlooked. The wise men were not Jews, they were not of the Chosen people. The blood of Abraham did not flow in their veins. But God called them and guided them and over a long journey led them … to Him.

In this way, the epiphany of the Epiphany is that we are welcome at the table now. The doors to God’s salvation opened wide on that night when He was born, allowing any who will take the step to enter in. It began with a star, a journey and a baby.

Because the wise men r us.

If You’re Catholic, Christmas Isn’t a Day. It’s a Season.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Catholics don’t regard Christmas as one, big rousing day of overeating and gift giving.

We see it as a joyful season of the Church. It lasts right up until we celebrate the visit the Wise Men paid to the baby Jesus.

That kind of season thinking is hard for Americans, tied as we are to jobs and paychecks. We feel lucky if we can get off work long enough to celebrate that one big day. But a “Season?”

No can do.

I understand this well. I’ve never been able to really “do” a Church season. I was too beset by other things. But I’m going to attempt doing Christmas the Catholic way this year, which is to say, that I’m going to do a bit of extended Christmassing.

Our family had the really big deal one-day celebration along with everyone else yesterday. We did mass on Christmas Eve; present opening and feasting on Christmas Day. It was beautiful. And wonderful. And blessed in every way.

Now, I’m sitting here in my housecoat after having cleaned the kitchen floor and eaten a piece of leftover chocolate cream pie for breakfast. I also dusted The Precious and took a look at my office.

My office has become the place I put things I plan to do later. It’s cluttered with stacks of books I plan to read, and paintings, plaques and other framed thingys I brought home from my office at the capitol six months ago.

I walked in there, flush with the anticipation of free time to “do” things and thought, “I need to hang those paintings/plaques/whatnot and I need to buy bookshelves for those books and put them in the music/prayer room that I want to create in the room where The Precious lives.”

Then I thought, “Nope.”

It’s Christmas Season and I’m not going to spend Christmas Season working. I’ll Do It Later.”

Of course “I’ll Do It Later” is why those books are stacked up and the paintings/plaques/whatnots are stacked against the wall.

But it is Christmas Season, the first real, live Christmas Season I’ve had the opportunity to take since I converted.

I am going to do my best to just bask in the miracle of God made human, of a Heavenly Father Who loves you and me so much that He came down here to live in the muck with the rest of us as the adopted baby boy of a humble carpenter. Our Lord and Savior Who was born as an outcast in a conquered land, born in a stable and Who had a stone manger for His first crib, is born again this Christmas season in our hearts.

I want to ponder, without the intrusions of our beautiful day of celebrating, the miracle of His birth. I want to consider that the great I Am Who made everything, everywhere, consented to be one of us, and that He gave us this beautiful message that being one of us, meant, from the beginning, that He was one of the Least of These.

I sit here in my comfortable chair in a house with central air and heat that is so efficient I have to step outside to know if the weather has turned cold or not. I wonder what it was like on that cold desert night, in a cave/stable.

The shepherds came — shepherds, not kings, not even the local rabbi — but shepherds, dressed in the same clothes they wore when herding sheep and sleeping on the ground. They came because the angels sent them, choosing, once again, to emphasize that this newborn King was not a king of palaces and pomp, but the Son of a God Who loves us all, loves us each and every one, and Who is not, never has been and never will be, a respecter of persons.

Angels from on high announced the coming of the Good Shepherd to humble shepherds who were tending their flocks in the fields.

This is our salvation.

This is who we are called to be. We are the leaven in the Kingdom, the mustard seed, the salt of the earth. We have in our hearts and in our knowledge of Him, the Pearl of Great Price, the only hope that exists for suffering, dying humanity.

The Hope of the World spent His first night in a stone manger in a stable with his two humble earthly parents. The Shepherds came, because, out of all the people roundabout on that night, the angels were sent to them to announce His birth.

“In getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” William Wordsworth wrote.

We have to make a living. There is no way around that. Jesus Himself worked for most of His earthly life at the trade of carpenter. He did not eschew work.

But we are not the things we make with our labors, nor are we the sum of our income or our passing achievements. Our “powers” reside in our ability to love and live and create life that is worth living for ourselves, our families and our world.

Labor is part of that, but only a part. The thing which gives it dignity, which makes it worth doing, is that ability to build people by raising our children properly, and by living lives of honesty, love, dignity and faith. Our lives take on value and eternal meaning to the extent that we live them in Him, through Him and for Him. Every good thing follows from that.

I know most of you who read this will be at work today. I also know that, for the first time, ever, I have the opportunity to do it differently from that.

I’m going to take off a few days this Christmas season and ponder the miracle. I’ll pray for those of you who don’ t have this opportunity. Remember that no matter what work you must do, the purpose and the meaning of it is not in the paycheck. The purpose and the meaning of our work is always in our love for Our Lord and the good we bring to this world by loving other people.

I will moderate comments, so feel free to continue your discussions. I’ll be back January 7, after the Epiphany of Our Lord.

 

2013 Favs: Christian Persecution: Holy Father Warns Bishops of Coming Persecution


Pope Francis has spoken of Christian persecution. So did Pope Benedict XVI. The papacy is continuity, going back to the words, Thou art Peter. Unfortunately, Christian persecution is a continuity, as well. More Christians have died for their faith in the last century than all the previous centuries combined.

Far from abating, Christian persecution appears to be worsening and spreading, including socially accepted Christian baiting and bullying of Christians here in post Christian America. 

I wrote this post on January 11, 2013. 

 

The Holy Father cautioned bishops that they will inevitably face persecution for standing for Christ in the increasingly secular world of the future.

He issued this warning in his homily for Epiphany. Even though the warning was directed to bishops, I think it applies to all Christians. The day of cheap grace is passing for all of us.

We must, as Joshua instructed the Israelites, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” I hope that we will be able to say along with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

ROME, January 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “What sort of man” must a bishop be? The kind of man who can face persecution without flinching, Pope Benedict XVI said at the Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany at St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.

At the Mass, the pope ordained four priests to the episcopate, one of whom is his close confidante and private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein.

Pope Benedict XVI

“Inevitably,” the pope said, faithful bishops will be “beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ”.

The Pope’s comments follow his recent pattern of especially strong statements on Dec. 14Dec. 21and Jan. 7  in response to the increasing push for abortion, acceptance of homosexual behaviour and general fierce opposition to the Church’s moral teachings from both inside and outside the Church.

“Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs,” Pope Benedict said.

“Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous.” Seeking the “approval of the prevailing wisdom,” he said, “is not a criterion to which we submit.”

“The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves,” said the pope. “The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.” (Read more here.)


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