Monday, January 08, 2007

The Liturgy: Our Eternal Epiphany

Homily for The Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2: 1-12

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. The word Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning "to shine forth" or "to make known". And that is what we celebrate today: that Christ shone forth, was made known, as newborn King, Savior, and Messiah. And He was made known not only to the people of Israel, not only to the Jewish shepherds, but to the three Wise Men as well.

We have to remember, the three Wise Men were not Jews. They were not part of the people of the covenant. They were Gentiles; they belonged to the "nations" we heard about in our first reading from Isaiah, the nations whom Isaiah said would "walk by their light", who would come from afar to proclaim the praises of the Lord. God revealed His coming among us, as one of us, not only to the people of the covenant, but to these three kings as well.

And so these wise men are a sign for us. They are a sign that, from the beginning of His coming among us, God's plan was that the newborn Savior was to be Savior not of just one particular people, not only of one nation, but the Savior of all peoples and nations. They are a sign of what St. Paul referred to in the Letter to the Ephesians which we heard a few moments ago, that: has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

We are told in the gospel that the three wise men, when they saw the infant Jesus, "prostrated themselves and did him homage." These men were great men in their own lands, mighty and powerful, and yet they bowed down and humbled themselves before this baby. This was no mere gesture of respect - they wouldn't have done this unless they recognized in the Christ child a King far greater than themselves. They bowed down and gave Him their worship, because they saw, somehow they understood, that this child was not merely a king, but The King. They recognized that this infant was the King and Ruler of all, the Lord of all creation.

And so these three kings, these wise men, are the first of all the peoples of the earth, all the people who did not belong to God's covenant with Israel, who come to be members of the New Covenant, not by birth into a tribe or nation, but by faith in Christ Jesus. The three kings are a symbol of all the people down through the ages who worship the King, and offer him their adoration. The wise men, we can say, represent all of us - they represent you, and you [pointing at individual parishioners] and me, as they kneel before the Christ child in our stead.

God's revelation of Himself in Christ did not just happen for one people, generation, or time. God makes Himself known to us even now. For you see, every time we gather around this altar for the Eucharist, every time a priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, God makes Himself known to us again, renews His presence among us. For in the liturgy of the Mass Jesus Christ - Savior, Lord, and King - makes Himself present to us in His body, blood, soul and divinity. In the liturgy, Christ comes among us just as really and truly as He was present before those wise men in Bethlehem. Every Mass is a new "Epiphany", or rather, a continuation of the one great Epiphany, as Christ's eternal saving work is made present to us here and now.

In the Gospel today, we are told that the wise men "opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." And in this the wise men are also a sign for us. For just as the wise men offered their gifts to the Christ Child, so do we make an offering at Mass. Of course, we offer our financial contributions in the collection, as a gift to God and His church. But in fact, we offer far more than money at Mass. You see, every Sunday, someone brings up the bread and wine in the offertory procession. And that bread and wine signify our participation in the great sacrifice that Christ offers to the Father. The Church has always insisted that the people take part in this offering, because we are united with the Sacrifice Christ offers for us in and through the Mass. We are invited and called to unite oursleves with this offering. And so that bread and wine represent us: our lives, all that we are and all that we have. All of creation, in fact, is presented to the Father by Christ in His sacrifice, and so, in the Mass, we participate in this one sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. When I hold up the paten with the bread become the Body of Christ, and the cup holding the Blood of Christ, you too are being offered: your lives, your dreams, your sorrows, your sufferings, your disappointments, and your victories and joys, are presented through Christ to the Father. In the liturgy, Christ comes among us, Heaven comes down to earth, so that we may be lifted up into the very life of the Blessed Trinity.

And to us, having made this offering, having taken part in this Sacrifice, then Christ gives the greatest gift, the greatest treasure of all: His very self. He gives us Himself as food and drink; communicates to us His divine life. And in receiving Christ's life in ourselves, the word of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled in us: "Upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears His glory...You shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow!"

This is what happens at every Mass. In the liturgy we are given an opportunity - an opportunity to enter ever more deeply into the saving mystery of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Through His church, Our Lord offers us in every liturgy the opportunity to know Christ, as Christ makes Himself known to us. Over the next two Sundays, I will be talking more about this opportunity we are given, the great treasure Jesus gives us in the Mass. I'll talk about what we have received from the apostles and their successors, how the Church invites us to participate in it, and how, through it, we are united to Christ and His whole Church.

Isaiah said, "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." The light of Christ does shine upon us: We are the new Jerusalem, and Christ invites us to rise up in the splendor He has won for us. The splendor of Christ is given to us in and through the liturgy. Come, and enter into the mystery of this great Epiphany!