Sunday, January 8, 2017

Homily for Today

My brothers and sisters in Christ, consider it a blessing that the grace of God has shined on you and that you have been born in this age. Why you may ask? It is because if you had been born in the former age, in the days of the Old Testament, as a Gentile, you would not have been part of God's chosen people.

Today, we are celebrating Epiphany Sunday. This special Feast, normally celebrated on January 6 th, commemorates the revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Gentiles. In some European countries, the popularity of this Feast is known as the "Twelfth Night" (after Christmas).

The meaning of the word "epiphany" has its roots in the Greek language. The first part of the word, "epi," means "upon." The second part, "phainein," means "to show." By combining these two meanings, "to show upon," we are reminded of the manifestation of the glory of Christ to the Gentiles.

The original purpose of the Feast of Epiphany, which had its beginning in the Eastern Church during the 3 rd century, was to commemorate how the glory of Christ was revealed to the Gentiles. Such took place in four ways:

(1) in the person of the Magi;

(2) in the Baptism of Jesus;

(3) in the first miracle at Cana; and

(4) When reviewing the early history of this celebration, it comes to our attention that the Birth of Christ was also included in the Feast of Epiphany.

Of these four, the Baptism of Jesus was predominantly commemorated.

Based on the writings of the early Church Fathers, it has been made known to us that the Birth of Christ and His first miracle at Cana both took place on January 6 th. Now some of you may wonder, if the Birth of Jesus took place on January 6 th, why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25 th? This is a very interesting question!

During the early days of the Church, it was the custom of the pagans to celebrate the birthday of the sun on December 25 th. During that celebration, the non-believers lit lights on account of the feast. As sad as it is to say, some of the members of the Christian community also participated in this unholy feast.

To remedy the situation, after consulting with one another, the Fathers of the Church determined that it was in the best interest of the Christians community to move the Feast of the Birth of Jesus to December 25 th and to leave the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 th. During that period of twelve days, the Christians would enjoy the burning of lights. The burning of the lights was to symbolize the spiritual illumination that comes from the Sacrament of Baptism.

With your newly gained knowledge from what has just been said, it now becomes easier to understand the choice of today's three readings from the Holy Scriptures.

Reviewing today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, it speaks of a prophecy that was made approximately seven hundred years prior to the birth of the Lord Jesus. In those days, the Israelites were rejoicing because after years of captivity, they were finally allowed to return to the holy city Jerusalem. The prophecy of Isaiah gave them hope that the promised Messiah would soon rise among the people and that His glory would be seen by all.

As God's chosen people, it was prophesied to the Jewish nation that they would be the light of the world and that the nations of the world would come to their light. While the prophesy spoke of the wealth and the multitude of camels that would be brought to the Israelites, this was spoken in symbolic language. The true wealth that the Jewish nation gained was that from their people, the Son of God was born in flesh and blood on earth. From their people, the Holy Catholic Church had its beginning. From their people, the Blessed Virgin Mary was created immaculate. From their people, we have received the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament. Out of their people, as instruments of God, salvation came to the world through Jesus Christ. Endless are the riches that the Lord God Almighty has bestowed upon the Jewish nation.

Truly, the Jewish nation became a light in the world, drawing all nations towards the abundance of its riches.

Today's prophecy of Isaiah concluded with the words, "They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord." [Is. 60:6] These words echoed the gifts that the three wise men from the East [Mt. 2:1-2, 9-11] brought to Jesus in adoration after following the shining star in the sky.

In summary, the First Reading spoke of the joy of the Israelites. It spoke of Jesus Christ, the Light, [Lk. 2:32] who was given to the world through God's chosen people. It spoke of the three wise men who found and adored the Lord Jesus, the Light of the world.

During today's Second Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, we heard, "Surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humanity as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." [Eph. 3:2-3, 5-6]

When and under what circumstances did God reveal to the apostles that the Gentiles were called to become members of the Body of Christ?

This answer is found in the Acts of the Apostles. When Saint Peter was called to Caesarea, he personally witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Gentiles. [Acts 11:15]

Some time later, when Saints Paul and Barnabas were preaching in the synagogue on the sabbath in Antioch of Pisidia, some of the Jews became jealous when they saw the large crowd that had gathered. Consequently, Paul and Barnabas said to them, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" [Acts 13:46-7]

That is how the Light of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was revealed to the Gentiles, our ancestors. In a way, we should always be grateful to the Jewish people of those days. Thanks to them, we sinful creatures rejoice because the gracious mercy of the Lord God was bestowed upon us. Now, through our faith in Jesus Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism by water and Spirit, we are admitted into the Body of Christ as spiritual members of the growing Kingdom of God on earth.

Today's Gospel Reading relates to us the event of the three wise men who followed the star that led them to the Child Jesus. They followed the brilliant star in the sky. To them, the light of the star was a symbol of hope, of joy and of peace. To them, the star was but a small reflection of the fullness of the Light of the world that awaited them at the end of their journey.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the Feast of Epiphany is a reflection of the Light. Through the Birth of Jesus, we see the arrival of the Light in the world. Through the Magi, we see the light of hope, of joy and of peace to come. Through the Baptism of Jesus, we see the beginning of the ministry of the Light in the world. Through the miracle at Cana, we see the Light of God manifesting His Supreme power over the element of water.

All these events are reminders to us that we too are called to be a light in the world. Being enlighten by the Light of God in our hearts, we are called to go forward and to share with others the Good News, our hope, our joy and our peace that the Light of Christ has bestowed upon us.

This week, let us reflect upon the Light of Christ that has come upon us. Let us assess the status of our Christian obligation towards Jesus Christ. Are we shining in the world in the fullness of the light that Jesus has given us? And, if the need be, let us correct what needs to be corrected so the fullness of our light may shine forth in all things for the glory of God.

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