Sunday, 4 January 2009

Epiphany Year B

Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi from the East. Today, the three figurines of the Magi are brought out and placed in the crib, thus, making the crib complete. In some places the figurines are, after Christmas, symbolically positioned at a distance from the crib and by the day moved nearer to the crib until today when they enter the stable bearing their gifts. And, recalling the gifts to the Infant Jesus, some families also exchange small gifts.

The root of the word epiphany means to show or to manifest. So, the feast celebrates the showing of Christ to the Gentiles symbolised by the Magi. But, the Epiphany commemorates more than the visitation by the Magi. Christ born on Christmas, Christ revealed to the Magi, Christ baptised at the river Jordan, Christ, according to John, performing His first miracle at Cana were originally the one and the same celebration of the Epiphany. In each of these events, the veil of God’s mystery has been drawn back. Specifically, in the Magi, the strangers, foreigners or pagans, the veil of God’s mystery has been drawn back to allow these Gentiles to receive salvation just like the People of Israel.

At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son. The Letter to Hebrews says as much. God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ. No longer is Israel the Light of the Nation but Jesus Christ Himself and we are the recipients of the Good News of Salvation. The second reading supports this theologically by granting to pagans a place in the Body of Christ.

The Epiphany is thus significant. We have a place at the table of the Lord. What does that mean?

The place we have is not automatically secured by membership. Remember Matt 7:21? “It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord” who will enter the kingdom of heaven”. However, this does not invalidate the fact that the invitation is gratuitous. The call is freely given but the response must be whole-hearted. We have our work cut out for us.

Firstly, this makes us all missionaries. Missionary work is not just pouring water and baptising. In the context of what can be done, Christefidelis Laici, the encyclical of John Paul II says that every person who is baptised is at once baptised to be a priest, prophet and king. The faithful laity exercise their baptismal grace through their participation, each according to his or her vocation in Christ’s own mission as priest, prophet and king. And the role of the ministerial priesthood, that is, of the ordained priesthood, is in the service of unfolding the grace of your baptism. Some people may think that the unfolding of their baptismal grace happens in the Church. But in truth, your missionary vocation is lived out in the world more than in the Church. What is done here is just a small fraction of what you can do outside.

In that sense, what you do in Church—Lectors, Commentators, Choir Members, Hospitality Ministers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Altar Servers—important as these ministries may be, are but a sign or symbol of your desire to let the grace of your baptism be experienced especially by the people who come into contact with you in your workplace, at home and everywhere.

It is not always easy. I spoke with a young person the other day. We shared about our embarrassment of “being good” in public. It’s funny that we speak of “CSR”, that is companies behaving in a socially responsible manner. They do it through many programmes etc. But sadly, CSR may be “cosmetic” as evidenced by political parties springing up immediately after the recent landslide only to score political points. The trouble is, individually, many of us shy from doing good. Why? We are simply afraid of what others might think. This young person was asked if he would stand up and give his seat to an elderly person and the answer was no and that was not because he didn’t think it was the right thing to do. He was afraid of what others might think of him: a wimp.

There is a lot of goodwill in many of us. In fact, we have more goodwill than we dare to share. Maybe what we need is a bit more courage.

And this leads me to our response that must be whole-hearted. The root of the word courage is “heart” because the Latin for heart is “cor”. The heart remains a powerful metaphor for inner strength. But courage, I believe, is not found just in “brute” strength. Courage is found when the heart is given away. People in love actually give their hearts to the one whom they love. That is why a person who loves go through great lengths and sacrifices for the one he or she loves. I asked a server why he was wearing some “stupid-looking bangles” and he said, “My girlfriend gave them to me”. Nothing is ever too much or stupid when we love. But, when we dare not give our hearts away, we dare not love. That perhaps explains why we are lukewarm in our response to Christ. Our missionary zeal is strong only when we dare to give our hearts to Christ. Epiphany is significant because Christ's revelation is an event of cosmic proportion. Our lukewarm-ness may be an indication that we believe but not enough. We accept that Christ is God and He is Saviour of the world but just a god or saviour who is NOT BIG ENOUGH for the world. That is why we hesitate to give Him the entirety of our hearts.

In summary, as Christ is revealed to the world, it is also equally true that the Magi represent humanity’s hunger and search for the newborn King. Epiphany reminds us that the Church must continually make known the Christ who is God and Saviour of the world to those who are waiting for the Gospel to be brought to them. But, before the Good News can reach them, Christians, that means we, must first give our heart to Christ the Lord. When we give Him our heart, nothing is too much; nothing is too difficult for us to do for Him. The Good News will become for us our confidence, pride and joy. If we cannot share it outwardly as we are prohibited by law, we must certainly do it with our very lives.