LITURGY NOTES FOR THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
Manifestatation of Jesus to the Peoples of all Nations
Suggested formula for recognition of indigenous people and their land.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land
on which we stand.
We pay our respects to them and for their care of the land.
May we walk gently and respectfully upon the land.
I acknowledge the living culture of the ……..people,
the traditional custodians of the land we stand on,
and pay tribute to the unique role they play in the life of this region.
God of peace and life,
speak to the hearts of those responsible
for the fate of peoples,
stop the `logic' of revenge and retaliation,
with your Spirit suggest new solutions,
generous and honorable gestures,
room for dialogue and patient waiting
which are more fruitful than
the hurried deadlines of war.
John Paul II [adapted for gender sensitivity]
Discerning signs has to do with comprehending the remarkable in common happenings, with perceiving the saga of salvation within the era of the Fall. It has to do with the ability to interpret ordinary events in both apocalyptic and eschatological connotations, to see portents of death where others find progress or success but, simultaneously, to behold tokens of the reality.... of hope where others are consigned to confusion or despair. Discerning signs does not seek spectacular proofs or await the miraculous, but, rather, it means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remaining radically realistic about death's vitality in all that happens.
William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land.
First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6
Responsorial Psalm Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
R. (cf. 11) Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Second Reading Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Gospel Matthew 2:1-12
Once again we gather,
From different homes and circumstances,
With different dreams and ideas,
different values and tastes,
Different in age and colour,
different in gender and language,
Yet, we are one family
– Children of God every one;
We join our hearts in worship,
We join our voices in praise
And we join our lives
as the Body of Christ. Amen.
God of all nations, peoples and cultures
the leading of a star
manifested Jesus, and your presence
to the peoples of the earth.
Your incarnate Word
pierces the darkness that covers the earth
and signals the dawn of peace and justice.
The nearness of your love
makes radiant the lives of your people
and beckons all the nations
to walk as one in your light.
Prayer over the Gifts
God of all nations, peoples and cultures,
may our offerings today
move us to love ourselves more deeply,
to honour each other more reverently
and to trust you as the source
of every new beginning.
May your light continue to guide us,
and may every journey be an opportunity
for seeking, revealing, forgiving and changing.
Prayer after Communion
God of all nations, peoples and cultures,
through this Eucharist that we celebrate today,
guide us with your light
so that we might see more deeply
and discern more clearly your presence
in Jesus and one another.
Statement of Belief
We believe in the God who made every man and woman in God's image.
We believe in the Christ who died to reconcile every human being to God,
and to restore our common humanity.
We believe in the Holy Spirit that has always hovered over creation,
and ignites love's fire in our hearts.
We believe in the community of faith that worships God, follows Jesus,
and lives by the Spirit.
And we believe in the time
when all things will be made new,
and all things will be brought together under Christ. Amen.
Prayers of the Faithful
Introduction: God's love is revealed to us in Jesus. May we be drawn beyond the limits the world imposes and see the light of God in all people. Response: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That the message of Christ’s peace through justice and nonviolence be re-learnt by all who follow him and that were there is violence and conflict we seek peace, reconciliation, compassion, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That all people discover peace as a gift of God and that it has a human face and heart which drives us towards mercy and compassion to others which tears down walls and barriers of hatred and distrust, we prayer: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That all the churches and faith communities continue to seek God and grow in faith and trust rather than claim exclusive rights on wisdom and truth, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That as our Orthodox sisters and brothers celebrate Christmas today, leaders of all faiths will be open to the light within them and work together to bring peace and harmony to people in their communities, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That people affected by floods, fires and hurricanes will receive the assistance they really need to build up their communities and that those who lost loved ones or friends might solace and peace through the care and love of their sisters and brothers throughout the world, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That on this feast of the Epiphany we are reminded that as Jesus came as a light to all people, the exclusion of anyone through racism, stereotyping, discrimination and xenophobia contradicts the good news of Christ, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That all those who are dominated by fear, overwhelmed by doubt and submerged in depression, come to trust through the light and peace of the living God, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That the powerful nations of our world, like the three Kings, will take different paths, by having the courage and integrity to recognise that their actions can cause threats to peace, and not imposing limits on dialogue, peace-making and compassion, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That those who govern, and we ourselves, might be free to build up this world to bring peace, to protect the weak, and create justice for all, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
· That God’s people everywhere, and especially the members of our parish family, will see that the light of God also shines beyond its confines in people and places we least expect, we pray: May Christ’s light shine through us upon the world.
Concluding Prayer: God of different journeys, you revealed your Son to all the peoples of the earth. Fill all with your joy and help those who search for you to find the stars that you have placed in their lives to lead them along the way. We ask this in Jesus' name.
Alternative Prayer of the Faithful
Introduction: Brothers and sisters, on this day we remember we have brothers and sisters in Christ in every land who are praying in every language, let us join them in interceding for our world as we pray, ‘Be born in us; be born in our world.’
Concluding Prayer: God of Peace, your son, Jesus, came among us to be the light of the world. Make us believe in the light so that we become people of the light, and shed the light of your love, peace, and hope to all who seek it.
Eucharistic Preface [Alternative]
May God be with you.
And also with you.
Let us lift up our hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to God
We give God thanks and praise.
It is indeed right to give you our thanks and praise, O God,
for you are the fulfilment of all our searching.
Since the time when you created all things
you have had a plan
— hidden in mystery through the ages —
to draw all the world into one body,
and to share with all peoples your promises of glory.
And now the light has risen, the mystery is made known:
your beloved child, Jesus, is revealed to the whole world
as Saviour and Redeemer,
and as the One who reigns in justice and peace.
You made him known first
to the magi from the east,
who came to pay him homage,
though they knew of him only what the silent stars could tell.
And now, you draw us again to the feet of Jesus,
to offer our gifts of praise to the Christ, the light of the world.
Therefore with .....
©Adapted from 2000 Nathan Nettleton www.laughingbird.net
I care not if you are an American, Iraqi, Israeli, Palestinian or whose flag you live under.
I care not that you worship a God, or what his name may be.
I care not that you like or dislike me.
I care not whose head adorns the money that buys your comfort.
I care that you should be treated with the same dignity and respect I demand for myself and for my family.
In fact I demand it!
I demand that the rights of each person regardless of place of birth is respected, not because of their wealth or achievements but for the dignity that is the birthright of all who are born to this earth.
Life demands not that we prosper at the expense of another but that we share our humanity and call a crime a crime, regardless of who the victim is, or who the villain.
Let us not walk in arrogance across the globe speaking of freedom while our hands are stained in centuries of blood.
Let us not preach to the world as victims and use the crushed bodies of the two thousand seven hundred and fifty nine people who perished on 9/11 as a weapon to plunder a world that has long experienced the same devastation at our hands.
Our tears and screams for justice are bitter taunts to a world that has been bombed and bullied by a nation to sure of it's own goodness.
A man that has lived his life without looking at his past and identifying those sections of his character that have brought pain to others is a tyrant. A nation and its people who refuse to acknowledge its crimes and the suffering of its victims is an evil to the world and should expect only evil as its reward.
How poor we are when we consider our own pain more worthy than the suffering of others.
‘Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws.’
How poor we are when we consider our own pain
more worthy than the suffering of others.
In Christ Jesus 'there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freedom, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.' . . . It is in Christ that the Church finds the central cause for its commitment to justice, and to the struggle for the human right and dignity of all persons.
US Bishops, Brothers and Sisters are Us
War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday living. We precipitate war out of our daily lives; and without a transformation in ourselves, there are bound to be national and racial antagonisms, the childish quarreling over ideologies, the multiplication of soldiers, the saluting of flags, and all the many brutalities that go to create organized murder.
History is an account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.
Ambrose Bierce, American writer, 1842-1914
All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.
You see, when a nation threatens another nation the people of the latter forget their factionalism, their local antagonisms, their political differences, their suspicions of each other, their religious hostilities, and band together as one unit. Leaders know that, and that is why so many of them whip up wars during periods of national crisis, or when the people become discontented and angry.
The leaders stigmatize the enemy with every vice they can think of, every evil and human depravity. They stimulate their people's natural fear of all other men by channelling it into a defined fear of just certain men, or nations. Attacking another nation, then, acts as a sort of catharsis, temporarily, on men's fear of their immediate neighbours.
This is the explanation of all wars, all racial and religious hatreds, all massacres, and all attempts at genocide.
Taylor Caldwell, The Devil’s Advocate (1952), p. 299
You may call God love, you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion
We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity.... But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it.
To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation that is governed by shopkeepers.
Thank God that at this hour I am dangerous to the war profiteers of this country who rob the people on the one hand, and rob and debase the government on the other; and then with their pockets and wallets stuffed with the filthy, bloodstained profits of war, wrap the sacred folds of the Stars and Stripes about them and [about] their blatant hypocrisy to the world.
Kate Richards O'Hare's Address To the Court Proceedings on the Sentencing of Mrs. Kate Richards O'Hare by Hon Martin J. Wade
An Inter-faith Prayer for Peace
God, you are the source of life and peace.
Praised be your name forever.
We know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.
Hear our prayer in this time of crisis.
Your power changes hearts.
Muslims, Christians and Jews remember, and profoundly affirm,
that they are followers of the one God, children of Abraham, brothers and sisters.
Enemies begin to speak to one another;
those who were estranged join hands in friendship;
nations seek the way of peace together.
Strengthen our resolve to give witness to these truths by the way we live.
Give to us:
understanding that puts an end to strife;
mercy that quenches hatred, and
forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.
Empower all people to live in your law of love.
http://www.diochi.org.uk/content/prayer4.htm, Pax Christi
So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.
In the course of twenty centuries of history, the generations of Christians have periodically faced various obstacles to this universal Mission. Despite such adversities, the Church constantly renews her deepest inspiration, that which comes to her directly from the Lord: To the whole world! To all creation! Right to the ends of the earth! She did this once more at the last Synod, as an appeal not to imprison the proclamation of the Gospel by limiting it to one sector of mankind or to one class of people or to a single type of civilization.
Paul VI, On Evangelization in the Modern World, Evangelii Nuntiandi
When I tell the truth,
it is not for the sake of convincing those
who do not know it,
but for the sake of defending those that do.
Heroism on command,
and all the loathsome nonsense
that goes by the name of patriotism –
how passionately I hate them!
Let us beg from Christ the gift of peace
for all who are suffering as a result of conflicts old and new.
Day after day, I bear in my heart
the tragic problems of the Holy Land;
every day I think with anxiety
of all those who are dying of cold and hunger;
every day there reaches me the desperate cry
of those who, in so many parts of the world,
call for a fairer distribution of resources
and for gainful employment for all.
Let no one lose hope
in the power of God's love!
May Christ be the light and support
of those who believe and work, sometimes in the face of opposition,
for encounter, dialogue and cooperation
between cultures and religions.
May Christ guide in peace the steps
of those who tirelessly devote themselves
to the progress of science and technology.
May these great gifts of God never be used
against respect for human dignity and its promotion!
Maybe it is not the darkness we fear most,
but the silences contained within the darkness.
Maybe it is not the absence of the moon that frightens us,
but the absence of what we expect to be there.
A wedge of long-billed curlews
flying in the night
punctuates the silences,
and their unexpected calls remind us
that the only thing we can expect is change.
Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge
Everyone's a pacifist between wars. It's like being a vegetarian between meals.
The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) Russian writer, Soviet dissident.
There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life - happiness, freedom, and peace of mind - are always attained by giving them to someone else.
Peyton Conway March:
It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.
This focus on money and power may do wonders in the marketplace, but it creates a tremendous crisis in our society. People who have spent all day learning how to sell themselves and to manipulate others are in no position to form lasting friendships or intimate relationships... Many Americans hunger for a different kind of society -- one based on principles of caring, ethical and spiritual sensitivity, and communal solidarity. Their need for meaning is just as intense as their need for economic security.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger.
Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers,
pray for powers equal to your tasks.
Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.
Every day you shall wonder at yourself,
at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God. Amen.
We are all called to be contemplatives in the heart of the world - by seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time, and [God's] hand in every happening; seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.
We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.
Hildegard of Bingen
While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do, I'll fight; while there is one drunkard left, while there is a poor girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight - I'll fight to the very end!
Christianity is being concerned about your fellow [human], not building a million-dollar church while people are starving right around the corner. Christ was a revolutionary person, out there where it was happening. That's what God is all about, and that's where I get my strength.
Fannie Lou Hammer
This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, it's the most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good. For nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for [their] neighbours.
St. John Chrysostom
We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process, crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.’
In everyone there is the capacity to wake up, to understand, to love.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw
Mary represents the 'rebel consciousness' that is essential to Jesus' gospel. Wherever the gospel is preached, we must remember that its good news will make you crazy. Jesus will put you at odds with the economic and political systems of our world. This gospel will force you to act, interrupting the world as it is in ways that make even pious people indignant.
One of the major reasons for government secrecy is to protect the government from its own population,
What is a rebel? A (man) who says ‘no’.
The major western democracies are moving towards corporatism. Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies - socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor - and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war. This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonalds is to food.
(Men) seldom, or rather never for a length of time and deliberately, rebel against anything that does not deserve rebelling against.
Thomas Carlyle, Goethe's Works
As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no one objected and no one rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.
The dissenter is every human being at those times of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself.
Archibald Macleish (1892-1982) Poet, playwright, written December 4, 1937
I think you have to deal with the confused situation that we're faced with by seizing on the glimpses and particles of life, seizing on them and holding them and trying to make a pattern of them. In other words, trying to put a world back together again out of its fragmentary moments.
Journalism is concerned with events, poetry with feelings. Journalism is concerned with the look of the world, poetry with the feel of the world.
This is the fundamental debate in our society: Are we a nation of citizens or a nation of consumers? Are we a democracy run by citizens, or are we a corporatocracy that holds consumers locked in dependency by virtue of their consumption?
They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket.
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues, and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else....Their purpose, in brief, is to make docile and patriotic citizens, to pile up majorities, and to make John Doe and Richard Doe as nearly alike, in their everyday reactions and ways of thinking, as possible.
H. L. Mencken, (1880-1956) American Journalist, Editor, Essayist, Linguist, Lexicographer, and Critic
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.... O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people!
Patrick Henry, (1736-1799) US Founding Father
O God of justice, you sent your Christ
to establish your realm of freedom and peace on earth as in heaven.
Prosper every effort to challenge arrogance,
prejudice and fear, and
to thwart all forms of discrimination,
degradation and oppression.
Through the one who died at the oppressor's hands, Jesus Christ,
our redeemer, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
God, all Light, all Truth,
we seek you.
Show us the way in this world and at this time.
Shine on us. O, shine on your entire world.
Shine with your peace, justice and compassion.
In the name of Jesus, Light and Truth. Amen.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of God is upon you’ (Isaiah 60:1).
Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience.
Reflections for the feast of Epiphany
Epiphany challenges us to see traces of God’s presence everywhere but particularly in places where it might be overlooked. In March 1958, (Thomas Merton) who lived in a monastery for 17 years had his eyes opened on the corner of street: ‘In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.’ This was a turning point in Merton’s monastic vocation as he penetrated deeply into the meaning of what it meant to be human. It meant seeing God’s presence and involvement in our lives and in our troubled world.
Any real ministry must begin with noticing especially the people easily overlooked. God’s movement or presence among us reveals a merciful heart burning with love for hurting people and a hurting creation. Too often, because of our agendas we can miss what God is doing amongst us. Today, Matthew disrupts our comfortable thoughts and pastoral tranquillity in the hope that we truly hear the gospel. Despite the often fairy tale depictions of the nativity story, the story of the magi is rooted in the politics of domination and the costly resistance to it. Their arrival in Jerusalem was an upset of political equilibrium (or at least its pretense), and a calling into question of the rule of an insecure puppet king. The cut throat politics that led to Jesus’ death were very present at his birth as well Herod responded with murderous rage and the holy family found themselves refugees on the run.
Today we see again the Jesus through whom God reaches out to people. We know how at Christmas God came down and dirty to seek out and touch the poor, marginalised, unnoticed, outside the group. God did not wait till things were peaceful and calm in the world but precisely into this troubled world.
This feast reminds us where we - the Church - should be…. not just among our own but to expand the boundaries of our concern to those that God choose to make a home amongst: people who do measure up or the oppressed [indigenous, gay people, Palestinians, persecuted Christians and other minorities, etc.]. What a direct challenge to the self-interested and nationalistic political leaders (the ‘Herods’ of this world) and to the churches. Two characteristics are evident in our political, social, economy and relational world today: defensiveness and otherness. People increasingly see themselves as distinct from and ‘other than’ others. In business, companies strive to set themselves apart and distinct from their competitors. Nations draw boundaries, and identify more and more who is an enemy and who is a friend, and thus invest huge amounts in militarism to defend what is ‘uniquely theirs’ – at great cost to themselves and others. Today’s feast reveals that Christ crosses all of these boundaries, refusing to be defensive or self-protective, and refusing to draw lines of separation – and in drawing creation into one gives up his own safety, security and comfort in order to do it. Too often our faith becomes exclusive, something to defend against others who have different perspectives. Epiphany reveals an alternative view of God’s presence, as something we do not earn but is given, that this presence is found in engaging compassionately and sharing with others and in our protecting and defending the least. How often do we in our communities even as the question as to ‘Who needs to be included in our community now?’ and ‘Who needs to be protected?’ Once, again, we are invited to make friends with all the wrong people!!!
Isaiah shows us a new way of being God's people. The marginalised often have life squeezed out of them and these are invited to imagine a different world; to dream of a future beyond the present harsh realities. Ephesians also says that outcasts, non-Jews, non-churched peoples are called by God, and are God’s people and are called to change the world. The emphasis is on the radical act of inclusion. God wants to draw all in. We cannot be content with our ‘faith’ if it does not touch suffering people. We are told that we are all insiders and objects of God’s love. There are no boundaries to God’s love and others need to be awakened to their insider status. We see in the gospel a preview of the Jesus who having attracted the Magi will later attract Samaritan adulterers, immoral prostitutes, greasy tax collectors, despised Roman soldiers, and ostracised lepers.
The gospel offers us choices. Do we respond to the God of mercy or to try to contain God within the bounds of our doctrines and imagination? The choice to take another road, as did the magi, is a choice to do things differently. It is the choice, as Jesus said in the gospel last week, ‘being about the things of God’ – the things close to God’s heart. New visions call for new paths. It might touch on our prejudices or our personal and communal comfort zones that lead us to welcome the marginalised where they stand on their feet as equals. Like Bethlehem, at first sight, the poor and the forgotten ones seem insignificant, but they are very important because this is how God comes to us - through them.
The Magi show us show where Christ may be found. Not in palaces but in the humpy, the sick bed, the asylum seeker, the person on the street, the abused person, next to the homeless person on the street we avert our eyes from. Jesus was born in the midst of political and religious hostility and violence – which still continues. The people of Mosul and Aleppo know it. The indigenous people at Standing Rock in North Dakota and in the Philippines know this. The victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria still live with this and know it. The victims of the Taliban and Isis, and the victims of US, Russian and Saudi, bombs know it. The Palestinians know it. The 8 million Uighurs in China know it. The Tibetans know it. The poor know it. The Indians in the Amazon jungle of Brazil know it. Many gay and lesbian people know it. All know firsthand the threats, injustice and cruelty. Yet, all in some way shine with their gifts of humanity.
So, what do we hear in this story? We hear that God has sent a one who will upset the powers. We hear that the smallest things, even a newborn baby, can terrify the arrogant, and bring them down in the end. We hear that the smallest things, like a new born baby, can melt the heart of the hardened of people. We learn that God's loving reach transcends every obstacle within or without, and pushes us beyond them, too.
Epiphany is any time when God appears in surprising places and pushes against our constructed realities as Thomas Merton found. How can God show up as a baby born in impoverished circumstances to poor parents? How is it possible that people of different races, ethnicities, cultures and social standing will come to worship this child? How might we see one another in a different light now, today, maybe for the first time, because of this child? We have other sightings where God in the 12 year old Jesus turns up in the temple engaging with the old men of faith which shifts their thinking and attitudes where wisdom can now come in unexpected places and unexpected people. In another sighting, a prophet (John the Baptist) is preaching by the river and God in Jesus comes asking for baptism like a common person, and leaves people wondering what must change in their own lives if God has shown that nothing is too lowly for a servant of heart and a spirit of love. The point is that when God makes an appearance, things change: the way we see ourselves; the way we see our responsibilities; how we live with others; the way we long for freedom from fear; the way we long to trust more and make us more willing to risk our comfort and our routine.
As we might meet God in new places, could we imagine God being surprised about the places and situations we might also show up; places and situations and involvements that might have gone against any expectations others or we would have had of ourselves, going against what might considered normal, safe, and comfortable, beyond the usual confines of our lives.
God’s boundaries have been stretched and continue to be stretched by becoming one of us. Maybe a simple question for ourselves might be where would God be surprised and relieved to find us? If simple gestures and changes can lead us to new places and keep us open to surprise, maybe God and you and I will meet one another where we both least expect it.
The magi not only exposed a sham king and the great political dangers of worshiping a hunted baby Messiah, they also brought gifts. Their gift-giving is a summons to us to make of our lives individually and corporately a witness of hope in and for a broken, despairing world. Like the world Jesus was born in, ours is a world of political and economic oppression, of homelessness and forced migration, of violence and fear-mongering. On this Epiphany we celebrate the fullness of the Christmas story and continue to make the foolish claim that tenderness triumphs and that love wins. That this love continues the ‘incarnation’ of God in our daily lives who has come inclusively – for all people: Jew and non-Jew, the rich and the poor, the oppressed and the oppressor. This inclusivity is what continues to show the gospel up as scandalous and revolutionary.