Sunday, January 03, 2016

Are you paying attention to the signs? (Epiphany homily)

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. 

What is an “epiphany”?
If we have a sudden moment of clarity, 
we’ll call it an “epiphany,” or, an “‘aha!’ moment.”

So it works like this:

Christmas: God is born a human being. But only a few learn of it.
January 1 is the eighth day; that’s when a newborn boy is circumcised;
And also when his name is given publicly for the first time.
Epiphany: now the child is revealed to the nations.
He’s not just a Messiah for the Jewish people, 
but as Isaiah said in the first reading, light for the nations.

And that’s where the Magi come in—they are a symbol of the nations.
That’s why, even though they probably came from present-day Iran,
They are often depicted as being different races.
And their arrival is the beginning of the world having it’s “aha” moment.

Notice Matthew doesn’t call them kings, but “Magi.” What are “Magi”? 
Magi were sort of like priest-philosophers
of the religion of Zoroastrianism.
And one of the things they did was to study the stars, 
expecting them to give signs and meaning. 

Now, the interesting thing is, 
the stars and planets often line up in curious ways, 
and you can have several seem to “meet” in the sky, 
making for an unusual light which—
because it might happen so rarely—
no one alive had ever seen before. 

There’s so much artificial light in the sky today that we miss a lot.
But in those days, everyone saw a night sky full of light; 
and if you watched it, you saw lots of interesting things.

So while the sign might have been a miracle, 
it also might have been one of the delightful surprises 
that happen in the long course of the stars 
slowly moving through their million-year cycles;
a delight that only God—
who planned it before time began—
can fully appreciate.

For the magi to make that arduous trip—
it must have been quite a sign. 
No wonder Herod and the whole city were so troubled.

So let me sum this up with some questions to ponder.

They only saw that star because they were paying attention;
What signs might you have missed—because you weren’t looking?
Or, maybe you sort-of saw, but…because you didn’t want to see it, 
you told yourself, nothing was there?

Sometimes the message is troubling. It doesn’t have to be. 
Herod could have welcomed Jesus.
I don’t know how many times 
I’ve had people come to confession who came in afraid—
but left so very, very, VERY happy 
they didn’t ignore the prompting of their conscience.

I meet couples about every week who are preparing for marriage.
They are always glad they didn’t ignore 
the signs and promptings that led them to each other.

And I tell you right now, I am not sorry 
I followed the star that led me to be a priest.
But had I missed it, 
and at the end of my life found out that I missed it?
I think I would have reason to be sorry!

Finally, we are sometimes tempted to think 
that our particular part isn’t important. 
But great things almost always start with tiny beginnings.

A baby is born. Far away visitors come to see.
But little by little, the message spread; 
until the year of our Lord 2016 when a third of the world 
calls Christ their king. 

There are still Herods, striking out in violence.
Even so, the light keeps spreading. 
The word of Isaiah is being fulfilled.

Today you are the Magi who came to visit.
What have you seen? What will you lay at his feet?
And, what will you tell others that you saw?

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