Epiphany of the Lord January 8, 2017
Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12
Hidden in this story that is so familiar to us there is a complete summary of the mission of Christ. It is like a preview of things to come. Listen to the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel and you can see what Matthew is giving us here. “When they saw him, they worshiped….. Then Jesus approached and said to them. ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The work of Christ extending salvation to all is previewed by the visit of these foreigners. His mission comes as a challenge to the Jews of his time, and there is resistance and resentment. Their privileged place and their chosen status with its exclusive claim on God confirmed by the Temple and its rites is all finished with the coming of Christ. The all-embracing love of God cannot be reserved or limited to just the Jews, and the journey of these foreigners and their introduction into the story of salvation is the first hint of what is to come: violent resistance. Herod’s murder of the innocents which Matthew records again previews the murder of the innocent Lamb of God. Yet, God’s plan will prevail in spite of that resistance as Joseph leads Christ to safety away from Herod only to return and continue the mission.
All through the Gospel, Jesus knows no boundaries or boarders. Off to Samaria and to Galilee he goes bestowing the healing signs of God’s love on anyone who comes: a Canaanite woman, the Gadarenes, the people of Gennesaret, even a Roman Centurion’s plea is graced with praise as Jesus says: “In no one of Israel have I found such faith.” Then in one final dramatic sign, the Temple veil is torn in two as the work of Jesus is completed. The apostle Paul picks up this mission as we hear it in the reading from Ephesians today: “The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Christ through the Gospel.” What he is describing is God’s vision of the church in which there is no Gentile or Greek, Jew or Roman, man or woman. We are never more church than when we are close to God’s vision and plan. A church that is not inclusive, welcoming, and open armed is not the church established by Christ. Squabbles over language and customs, conversations that speak of “them” and “us” betray a failure to share the vision and the ministry Matthew inaugurates with this story. The real Epiphany of Christ is seen in a church that embraces the world and people who see one another as God sees.
The message of this Gospel comes as a challenge to this world today, and the teaching our church through this Gospel calls into question a kind of patriotism that is exceptionalism. Authentic patriotism is good and honorable because it affirms one’s identity and community; but excessive patriotism that becomes exceptionalism is divisive, and it is at the root of all wars. For one nation or culture to claim it is the best and is the only way drives a wedge between people, stifles understanding, and begins to deny rights and respect to the other. This Gospel proposes a new solidarity and community among God’s children today just as it did for the Jews at the time of Jesu
This solidarity, this community experience is essential to the plan of God. Again and again, when Christ revealed himself to the world, he rarely showed himself to just one person at a time. Think of Christmas night, when the news was announced to shepherds. It was to a group, another kind of community. And then, people from the east, a distant community, another group. This will happen repeatedly. It is the beginning of a pattern. At the Baptism of Jesus there will be a crowd of witnesses. When he preaches, he will speak to the multitudes. At the time of the first sign, the first miracle, it is at a public gathering, a wedding. When he reappears after his resurrection, it is to a roomful of believers. Even on the road to Emmaus, he presents himself not to one person, but to two. This is part of the great message of Christianity. We are meant to receive the good news together, to live it together, to celebrate it and share it with one another.
One simple fact remains which we affirm today. Christianity is not a solitary experience. Thomas Merton put it beautifully: “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with another.” To this truth let the church say: Amen!