Manifestation of Jesus to the Peoples of all Nations
The world now is too dangerous and too beautiful for anything but love.
May your eyes be so blessed you see God in everyone.
Your ears, so you hear the cry of the poor.
May your hands be so blessed that everything you touch is a sacrament.
Your lips speak nothing but the truth with love.
May your feet be so blessed you run to those who need you.
And may your heart be so opened . . . that your love,
[and God’s] love, changes everything.
Elizabeth Tapia (Philippine theologian)
Despite present and past bleakness and gloom and exposure to the pandemic that had rendered so many people weak and vulnerable and people dying exponential rates, at least overseas, and pushing people to the sidelines, Epiphany celebrates hope, rejuvenation, and awakening. Amidst darkness, there is light where many people do not succumb to apathy but accept that they will no long be silent if they are to see the wonderful things that God has offered us. We are meant to act as light in the midst of darkness. That light was clear in the courageous actions of countless health care and other essential workers - until now unseen and underpaid. It was also present in the dedicated efforts to protect the elderly, prisoners, those in care facilities, refugees and asylum seekers from COVID19. Epiphany calls us to look for the love present in the most insignificant places. Let us look for ‘epiphanies’ or manifestations of God among us and see traces of God’s presence everywhere - particularly in places and people easily overlooked. The call is to expand our horizons and see ourselves as sisters and brothers in the world. The events of the last eighteen months or so have brought home to most of us our utter dependence on a healthy environment and on right relationship within our planetary home. The pandemic is opening our eyes, helping us to recognize the centrality of relationships in our lives and the importance of community and the intrinsic interconnectedness of all things. A deep awareness of our place in the Earth community teaches us humility and thus a deep respect for the whole of creation and it sacredness. This might cause us to be peacemakers and peacekeepers as we seek alternatives to the ‘politics’ of violence, destruction, inhumanity and neglect. We can show that a renewed life – a new normal - is possible for the most marginalised among us. We can build community and society where those in leadership put justice first and respond to the cries of the poor by being living witnesses of God’s presence in a broken world. As we rise up and refuse to be silent, we can reveal new and radical alternatives that offer new and creative ways of being together.
Matthew tells us a story that is according to N.T. Wright, ‘political dynamite.’ The message of Epiphany is good news and disturbing. It is Good News in that the birth of Jesus reveals a God who is with us and for all. It is disturbing as many people are comfortable in their exclusivity where ‘we are here’ and ‘you are there’. The Prime Minister has drawn attention to the children recently killed in the jumping castle accident. He spoke of the pain and suffering of the families and community. Yet, his ‘you are there’ attitude involves closed eyes to children and adults dying of starvation in Afghanistan, the children denied medical care in the Pacific, the children who have drowned crossing oceans to seek safety or a better life. The media, as always, provides images of homeless people being charitably served food by individuals and organisations. President and First Lady Biden gave gifts to American children to celebrate the birth of Jesus, yet, this charity towards ‘our own’ does not extend to the millions of children, women and men (Afghans, Venezuelans, Cubans, Syrians, Iranians, and North Koreans) suffering from sanctions enforced by the USA and its allies. Jesus manifests a God who is for all, not exclusive to certain groups or genders. In Jesus we see one who will lead with truth whilst King Herod is a false one, a usurper and imposter. Jesus is for all people and will bring peace and justice whereas Herod, and all who represent him throughout the ages, are exclusive for themselves, their interests and their cronies. This confrontation will continue throughout his life and find its climax as he sits before Pilate before his crucifixion.
The coming of the Magi upsets the political equilibrium. It called into question the rule of an insecure king whose anxiety, fear, paranoia and sense of threat to his power led to the killing of innocent children. The politics of domination and of costly resistance that resulted in Jesus’ death on the Cross were present at his birth in these murdered children. Their encounter with Herod and the child in the manger also provoked a crisis for the Magi. When they left the child, their ways of thinking were shaken up and their priorities challenged. Would they collude with the power hungry Herod or follow the God revealed in this child? Would we take another way and go beyond the familiar and safe, would we look at our sisters and brothers and share their experiences and befriend them to make possible what Pope Francis calls a ‘culture of encounter’? It involves entering the life of ‘the other’ whether as individuals, communities, a church or a nation. It means, as Pope Francis says, moving to the world’s margins and peripheries which may as near as the next street or distant parts of the world. Wherever it is, we need to expand our horizons and boundaries of concern towards people that God choose to make a home amongst – ‘the least among us’. We cannot continue to collude with a system ‘that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded, a system which says we’re not welcoming people any more into our country’ which we have become masters at in Australia. Such collusion and injustice is made possible by our silence and when we see ourselves as distinct from and ‘other than’ others. The religious leaders of Jesus' day had worked out a somewhat peaceful accommodation with the Roman Empire as has have many parts of the Church in the USA with Donald Trump as well as in our country in the face of many injustices. Accommodation and complicity results in silence on injustice. The Magi took another road!!
Pope Francis constantly calls us to develop a ‘culture of encounter’ which includes all people and all Creation. A genuine encounter changes us as did the Magi. They could not return to their old ways and take things for granted. Herod’s response to the Magi mirrors our culture and the church where a focus on the individual and the expedient makes us see the other as foreign and threatening. It prevents the kind of response of the Samaritan who, as Pope Francis writes in Let Us Dream let himself be struck by what he sees and is changed because ‘he stops, pulls up, acts, enters into the world of the wounded man, throws himself into the situation, in the other’s suffering, and so creates a new future.’ The Pope calls us to see how COVID-19 demonstrates our connectedness where we might establish new networks of solidarity. He continues to remind us of the presence of God in other faiths and ‘in all nations.’ In Fratelli Tutti, he declared with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, that ‘God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters.’ In Querida Amazonia, he pointed to the Amazon region as ‘a space where God himself reveals (himself) and summons (his) sons and daughters.’ More recently, he reinforced the view of our interconnectedness, and ‘To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination.’
God’s presence is found in engaging compassionately and sharing with others, and protecting and defending the least. We cannot be content with our ‘faith’ if it does not touch suffering people and ‘the least’ among us. We cannot be content when our church leaders make decisions based on the dollar and remain silent when Indigenous people call for a voice in this land, when asylum seekers languish in detention centres for years, when women voices are ignored, or when our government spends on military hardware rather than social welfare. The One who attracted the Magi also attracted Samaritan adulterers, immoral prostitutes, greasy tax collectors, despised Roman soldiers, and ostracised lepers – and he would pay the price for that.
We have choices. We can respond to the broadness of God of mercy or contain God within the bounds of our doctrines and imagination? The magi chose another road. They chose to do things differently – to be ‘about the things of God’ - the things close to God’s heart. As we begin another year, we might listen to those seekers, especially young people, who want more than what conventional and ritualised religion can offer. God is bigger than any ritual or tradition and is always waiting to encounter us anew, somewhere beyond our expectations. Epiphany is any time when God appears in surprising places and pushes against our constructed realities. It may surprise us in the places and people where we might meet God. It may also surprise God when we courageously show up in places and situations and be with people because we have taken another road.
May this holy season be for each of us
a time of moving beyond what is ‘reasonable’
and toward the star of wonder.
God, move us beyond grasping tight to what we have
to unclenching our hands and letting go.
God, lead us to the Light,
moving beyond competition toward cooperation,
seeing that all humans are sisters and brothers.
moving beyond the anxiety of small concerns
towards the joys of justice and peace.
May the transforming acceptance of Mary and Joseph,
the imagination of the shepherds,
and the persistence of the magi,
Guide us as we seek the Truth,
always moving toward the Divine promise,
always aware that God may be hidden in the frailest among us,
always open to the unexpected flash of Grace,
to the showing forth of that Love that embraces us all. Amen