Epiphany of the Lord - Magi- Homilies

Fr. Bill Grimm's Video Message at the bottom
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Story: A husband asked his wife, "Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?" She replied, "Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions."

"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, rebuild the nations, bring peace among people, make music in the heart." So wrote Howard Thurman.
 

More from last year’s post:



1.     Fr. John Speekman

After Jesus had been born … 

After Jesus had been born things start to happen. An energy is unleashed, an unstoppable power, a joyful, irresistible movement. The longing of the centuries suddenly becomes a seeking, a setting out, a life's journey to find the One who is now among us. 

It begins with some shepherds in the fields nearby. An angel appears as they watch over their sheep; the darkness is pierced by the glory of heaven; the joyful message of his arrival is announced. They leave their flocks and set out to seek his face - the face of their desire. 

Countless human hearts, for 2000 years now, have followed in their footsteps, their quest no different from that of the shepherds, or of the Magi. 

The sky opens above Bethlehem and the darkness is pierced by glory of heaven. Do you understand what has happened? Everything has changed. The universe begins to move around a new centre, drawing all men of good will to itself. The shepherds are first to leave their orbit - how appropriate that it should begin with them, the poor!

They come to him, acknowledging the child. These simple peasants would not have understood it all. Do you understand when you come and kneel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament? Do you know the full mystery before which you kneel? Of course not, and neither do I. But we come anyway - drawn by the same irresistible power which drew the shepherds. 

Next come the wise men from the east following a star which knows its creator. All nature now knows and is ready to share its secret with hearts that are pure.

 The journey of the Magi is longer, slower, more heroic. Some of us find Christ soon in life and others much later, after a long journey, but it is all the one journey - the journey that started back then - after Jesus had been born.

 The wise men have come to do him homage. They have a need to do this, as we have, because it is the real purpose of every human life – to give oneself entirely and in a totally unrestricted manner to God. 

They have gifts for the newborn King of the Jews - gold, frankincense, myrrh, but first they give themselves. 

… and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. 

How wonderful to be allowed to worship the Lord, to come before him and do him homage! Could we ask for more? 

Following the star which had filled them with delight they reach their destination and find themselves before the Lord. Yes, they find themselves. Do you understand? What a moment of joy, of fulfilment, of destiny! 

Now they open their treasures and give. And how generously they would have given! Look at them, admire them, envy them and imitate them. We are all at our happiest, most satisfied, most noble, most beautiful - on our knees before Jesus – giving ourselves to him. 

We note with sadness that some do not come. Herod misses out. It seems his orbit will not be breached. He wants everyone to circle around him, as he does.

The Jewish elders miss out too. They have all the facts of the case, they know where the Child is to be born, but they miss out on the Truth. How sad! Where will their journey take them? 

But let us rejoice together. We have come into the house and gathered round the altar. In a few moments we will see the child. Let us, too, fall to our knees and do him homage. 

2.     Rev. David Rider 

Purpose: How are we to carry out this mission to bring Christ to the world? When we encounter Christ, as the magi did, our lives are definitively marked, changed, transformed.   

It would be an understatement to say that the world was surprised when, in 1982, British satirist and journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, was received into the Catholic Church. The son of agnostic parents, Muggeridge had been raised in the religion of socialist progress, and had inherited from his father the conviction that man was capable of building paradise on earth.  Despite flirting briefly with Christianity during his studies at Cambridge, by the end of his university days his faith in socialism was far deeper than his faith in Christ or the Church.  “I am a socialist,” he wrote, “because I believe that the right conditions help man to be good, and only collectivism creates such good conditions.”  In 1927, Muggeridge married Kitty Dobbs, herself a convinced socialist and religious agnostic. They were proud to establish a marriage free of religious constraints, and their ultra-liberal attitudes towards sexuality would lead to many infidelities that caused much suffering for themselves and their children.  In the early 1930s, his career as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian brought Muggeridge to the Soviet Union, where he was convinced that he would finally find a land free of exploitation and injustice.  He was soon disabused of this fantasy as he witnessed first hand the true barbarism of the communism that was practiced in the USSR.  Little by little, his disillusionment with the totalitarian system he found in the land from which he had hoped for so much, led him to disavow himself of the conviction that the answers to man’s longings and man’s problems lay in socialism.

Muggeridge began to read the great works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, to attend the occasional divine liturgy, and to toy hesitantly with the idea of entering the Catholic Church.  However, almost 40 years would pass before Muggeridge would find the courage to take that step.  While many different experiences converged to bring this well-known agnostic home to the Church, the deciding factor was his meeting with Mother Teresa, about whom he wrote the book, Something Beautiful for God.  Mother Teresa was clearly a woman whose life had been transformed by Jesus Christ, and it was impossible for Muggeridge not to be attracted by the witness of faith, hope, and love which he saw in her.  Mother Teresa, in all of her simplicty, radiated Jesus to such a degree that Muggeridge was compelled to embrace the Christian faith, becoming a devout Catholic, and one of the Church’s staunchest defenders. In their last years, Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge cultivated a deep love for the Blessed Sacrament, detached themselves from the world in prayer, and spent their days attending Mass, and preparing themselves to come face-to-face with their Savior.

In this account, we see Bl. Teresa of Calcutta engaging–perhaps without even trying consciously to do so–in an activity which is on everybody’s lips today: the new evangelization. Mother Teresa brought the Christain faith to a man from a traditionally Christian country, who had already known Christianity but who, for one reason or another, had distanced himself from his Christian roots, and found himself, for much of his life, without any religious faith at all.  On this feast of the Epiphany, we are reminded of the call to mission which Mother Teresa lived so well, and we are shown how to most effectively live that mission.

Long before Mother Teresa won a convert, St. Paul had exhausted himself for the conversion of the Gentiles.  He was driven to endure sufferings, to take risks, and to expose himself to ridicule in order to bring the Gospel to everyone who had yet to hear it, because he was convinced, as we heard in the second reading, that the Gentiles were “coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”  The same missionary fire must burn in us, whether we are charged with bringing Christ to those who have never heard of him before, or to those who, having once known him, have grown cold in their faith and no longer see its relevance to their lives.

How are we to carry out this mission to bring Christ to the world?   Today’s Gospel gives us a clue.  After describing the classic scene that we all know so well of the magi from the east, who follow the star to do homage to the newborn king, the evangelist tells us that the wise men “departed for their country by another way.”  That is to say, the magi encounter Christ, and they do not walk away the same.  In this seemingly insignificant observation of the Gospel account, we have the answer to the “how” of the evangelization ad gentes that Paul carried out in his day, as well as the “how” of the new evangelization that the Church is challenging us to in our day. When we encounter Christ as the magi did our lives are definitively marked, changed, transformed.  And when we are radically transformed by our encounter with Christ, other people will be radically transformed by their encounter with us.

Mother Teresa had been profoundly changed by the same Jesus the she encountered every morning in her Eucharistic holy hour, the same Jesus that she received every day at Mass, the same Jesus upon whose life she meditated in the Gospels, and the same Jesus that she found in the poorest of the poor.  It was because she had allowed herself to be transformed by her encounter with Jesus in this way that Malcolm Muggeridge was able to write of her:

Mother Teresa is, in herself, a living conversion; it is impossible to be with her, to listen to her, to observe what she is doing and how she is doing it, without being in some degree converted. Her total devotion to Christ, her conviction that everyone must be treated, helped, and loved as if he were Christ himself; her simple life lived according to the Gospel and her joy in receiving the sacraments–none of this can be ignored.  There is no book I have read, no speech I have heard … there is no human relationship, or transcendental experience that has brought me closer to Christ, or made me more aware of what the Incarnation means, and what is demanded of us.

On this feast of the Epiphany, as we celebrate the encounter of the magi with the Christ child, whose birth we just celebrated two weeks ago, we would do well to ask ourselves whether our own encounter with Christ leads us back by a different road, and renders us instruments of the evangelization which St. Paul, Mother Teresa, and a thousand saints in between, have carried out so well.  Once, when preaching the feast of the Epiphany, St. Augustine said, “Even we, recognizing Christ our King and Priest who died for us, have honored him as if we had offered him gold, incense, and myrhh.  But what remains is for us to bear witness to him by taking a different road from that on which we came.”  If we truly “bear witness to him by taking a different road” then we can hope firmly that what happened to Malcolm Muggeridge will happen to many through the Spirit working through us, enabling us to say confidently with the Psalmist today, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” 

3.     From the Connections 

THE WORD:

The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew does not call them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from -- in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi -- non-believers in the eyes of Israel -- possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:

  • gold is a gift fitting for a king, a ruler, one with power and authority;
  • frankincense is a gift fitting for a priest, one who offers sacrifice (frankincense was an aromatic perfume sprinkled on the animals sacrificed in the Temple);
  • myrrh is a fitting “gift” for someone who is to die (myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial).
HOMILY POINTS:

Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion. 

4.     Fr Andrew Greeley 

Background:

In this year's readings the whole story of the Epiphany is told. Next week we read the story of the second manifestation of the Divinity of Jesus at his Baptism and the following Sunday - "Cana Sunday" we witness the third manifestation at the Marriage Feast in Cana. Today we hear about the first manifestation to the "Magi" (astrologers is probably a good name for them, though it misses the attempts of these men to produce a science of the stars).  

Despite our tradition of Caspar, Beltassar, and Melchior, the Greeks and the Russians hold that there were twelve kings. Since there were twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles, they argue that there had to be twelve kings. Our tradition of three is based on the fact that three gifts were mentioned. No matter how many of them there were, they were men who, as the carol says, had the courage to follow their star.

 Story: 

This is the story for those who miss the point. (This homily series rarely repeats itself but there is only one story that should be told on this festival, and that is the magical story of Babuksa 

Once upon a time there lived in Bethlehem a woman named Babushka. She kept the cleanest and neatest house in town and was also the best cook. She heard rumors of three kings coming across the desert but paid no attention to them because she had so much work to do. Then she heard the sounds of drums and pipes and a cavalcade of riders. She looked out the window and there were three richly dressed kings coming towards her house. They told her that they had come to honor the little prince who had been born in Bethlehem and they needed food and lodging. Babushka cooked a wonderful meal for them, remade all the beds, and wore herself out. The next morning the kings begged her to come with them so she too might see the little prince. Babushka said she would follow after them as soon as she finished the dishes. She cleaned the house again and then took out of a cabinet the toys of her own little prince who had died so long ago. She had no more need of them and would give them to the new little prince. She put them in a basket and sat down for a moment's rest before she followed the wise men.  

Hours later she woke up, grabbed the basket, and rushed into town. But the kings were gone and so was the little prince and his parents. Ever after, it is said, Babushka has followed after them. Whenever she finds a new born babe, she looks to see if he is the little prince. Even if he (or in our days she too) is not there, Babushka leaves a toy for the child. I think she probably found the prince early on, but we still should learn from her lesson: we should never let the important interfere with the essential.

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One of the striking features of the Gospel of John is the way it depicts the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The other gospels usually tell us stories about Jesus. Then, like the disciples, we are left to ask, "Who is this, that wind and sea obey him? Who is this who feeds the multitude on a couple of loaves and a few fish?" But in the Gospel of John, there's never a doubt who Jesus is, because he tells us. Usually he does so with a statement that begins with the words, "I am." Put him in a situation and he will clarify who he is and what he has come to do.

You can put him in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

You can put him in the midst of people who are confused, people who ask, "Who are you, Jesus? What makes you different from all the other gurus, rabbis, and religious leaders?" And Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture" (10:7, 9). It is an act of self-definition.

You can put him at graveside, in the midst of grief-stricken people, and Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live" (11:25).

Or put him in the midst of people who feel disconnected by life's difficulties, and Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (15:5).

In the Gospel of John, in one situation after another, Jesus defines himself and says, "This is who I am...." In the eighth chapter, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12). His words echo the opening words of the Fourth Gospel, where the writer defines the person and work of Jesus in terms of light. "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (1:3-4, 9).

Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." This is the kind of thing we might expect to hear in these days after Christmas... 
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From our first days in school, or on the playground, we learn the "Count Off."

To keep track of a classroom full of kids, one of the first things first graders learn from busy teachers is to "count off." Especially during fire drills or field trips, it is imperative that every child be accounted for. The presence of every one of them is assured by reaching the proper total number. Besides learning to count off to get a total tally, sometimes the kids "count off" by two's or four's, a fast, easy way to divide up into teams. (Remember how you and your best friends would guess where to stand in the counting-off line so that you could end up on the same team?)

There is a lot of "counting off" that happens during the Christmas season count-down. Retailers groused this year that Thanksgiving came so late that it critically shortened the all-important number of "shopping days" between "Black Friday" and Christmas Day, cutting into final total sales figures. The Salvation Army actually lost 20 million dollars in donations from their red buckets and ringing bells because of the shortened count-down.

Then there is the traditional counting-off of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" - or its more recent counter-part, the "Twelve Days of Bad Christmas Sweaters." Tomorrow marks the last official holiday count off - as we celebrate Epiphany, the end of the twelve day Christmastide that bridges Christmas Eve and Epiphany Eve. Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, Emmanuel, "God WITH Us," as was manifest specifically in the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, which symbolized Jesus' mission to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. God's "Withness" embraces all peoples of all cultures and all creation...  
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A Reminder Where Our Hearts Belong

Since Thanksgiving, the shopping malls have been telling us that "It's the most wonderful time of the year." And it is - for them. For many others, however, it is a mixed bag. Christmas isn't what it was when I was a child and never will be again. I'm an adult; it's different; it just is. In this economically difficult time, many have lost jobs or seen their investments and securities dwindle--unsure of what the future holds.

Perhaps we have not been able to do what we might have liked to have done for Christmas. Many husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, are serving in harm's way and are not able to be with family this Christmas. There are those living with illness or with grief at the death of a loved one--sorrow intensified during this season of memories of Christmases past and high, perhaps unrealistic, expectations of what Christmas is supposed to be. There might be those who are just as happy to have the celebration done with and over.

In this season of gift giving and all that pulls and tugs on our hearts, may we remember the good gifts that the Creator has given us, the sun and the moon, this good earth with all its blessings of sky and water, plants and animals, this incredible gift of life, of flesh and blood, of breath and memory, this day, this moment, and all those who people our lives, both joy and sorrow, and all that it means for us to be fully human, fully alive. And, above all, may we remember the gift of the Word made flesh sent to save us, to heal us, to bring us joy, to bring us back to God's own self.

Wm. McCord "Mac" Thigpen, Christmastide: A Reminder Where Our Hearts Belong
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ILLUSTRATONS: 

1.     Closing the Chasm 

Many years ago, I was walking in the farm that has belonged to my father's family in Kentucky for many generations, and I happened to looked down and I saw this giant anthill. There must have been thousands of these little creatures scurrying back and forth. It was a world unto itself. And as I looked down, I thought to myself, given the capacity of an ant, they have no way of understanding something as big and complex as a human being. If they were aware of me at all, I must have loomed over them as some kind of ominous presence. Then it dawned on me that if I had the power to somehow become an ant and yet take into that new condition as much of the reality of a human being as would be possible - in other words, if I could cross this chasm of otherness from my side - then it would be possible for ants to understand the human in ways that they could never have known before.

 As I walked away, I began to realize that the chasm between an ant and a human being, vast as it is, is nothing to compare between the chasm between a human being and this mysterious, divine reality that gives life. And I realized that we are as incapable of understanding God on our own as an ant would be incapable of understanding us.

John Claypool, God Became What We Are
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2.     Called to Obey Love
 
 Kierkegaard has a fable of a king who fell in love with a maid. When asked, "How shall I declare my love?" his counselors answered, "Your majesty has only to appear in all the glory of your royal glory before the maid's humble dwelling and she will instantly fall at your feet and be yours."

But it was precisely that which troubled the king. He wanted her glorification, not his. In return for his love he wanted hers, freely given. Finally, the king realized love's truth, that freedom for the beloved demanded equality with the beloved. So late one night, after all the counselors of the palace had retired, he slipped out a side door and appeared before the maid's cottage dressed as a servant.

Clearly, the fable is a Christmas story. We are called to obey not God's power, but God's love. God wants not submission to his power, but in return for his love, our own.

God moved in. He pitches his fleshly tent in silence on straw, in a stable, under a star. The cry from that infant's throat pierced the silence of centuries. God's voice could actually be heard coming from human vocal cords.

That's the joy of it. God has come to be with us!
 

James T. Garrett, God's Gift, CSS Publishing Company
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3.     God Is in Everything 

When Christians say, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth," they do not mean that God is everything, but they do mean that God is in everything. "In everything," wrote Paul to the Romans, "God works for good with those who love him ... " (Romans 8:28). The theologian Robert McAfee Brown likes to use in his writing the musical metaphor of themes and variations. There are many musical compositions, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for example, which begin with a clear, identifiable musical pattern, or theme. What follows in the music is a series of variations on this theme, the theme being repeated in ever more complex combinations. Sometimes the texture of these combinations is so complex that the theme is hidden, seemingly obscured by the competing and interlocking notes. But those who have heard the theme clearly stated at the beginning of the work can still make it out, can feel the music being organized by the theme. In Jesus Christ "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth ...." That's the theme of all of life heard clearly by the ears of faith, and those who have heard that distinct theme can hear it being sounded wherever the music of life is being played, no matter how jangled are the false notes surrounding it. 

Thomas G. Long, Something Is about to Happen, CSS Publishing Company
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4.     Witnessing Involves Listening 

While I believe that the gospel is always a proclamation about God's actions, effective witnessing involves a lot of listening. For a proclamation to be "good news" for someone, it has to address their needs, their questions, their concerns. I've often quoted this statement from a course on witnessing: "You don't throw a drowning person a sandwich, no matter how good the sandwich might be." 

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
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5.     The Word Became Flesh 

If John's Gospel were the only one we had, this is all that we would know about Jesus' birth: before his name was Jesus, his name was the Word, and he was with God from the very beginning of creation, bringing things into being, making things happen, shining light into the darkness.  

He was God's self, God's soul, God's life force in the world. He was the breath inside all living things. He was the electric spark that charged peoples' hearts. He was the fire inside the sun. He was the space between the stars. He was the axis around which the galaxies spin.  

John goes on to say that not everyone got that message. Many were blinded by this light and preferred the darkness they knew to the light which they did not know. The Word sidled up to them and hummed life into their ears, but they cleared their throats and walked away. So God decided to speak in a new way. God decided to speak body language. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us -- full of grace and truth."

This is John's Christmas story in a nutshell. Like Luke, John is telling us about an encounter with the Holy One. God's Word was translated into a human being. God's self, soul, and life force were concentrated into one mortal life on earth, and as a result, nothing would ever be the same again. Not because everyone listened, because everyone does not, but because the eternal Word of God took human form.

Paul E. Flesner, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, CSS Publishing Company
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6.     Entertaining Angels Unaware 

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament reminds us of that incident, and counsels Christians to make hospitality a Christian virtue. "For you may be entertaining angels unaware." But more than that, you may be doing it to Christ, who said, "If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me."

Tom Long teaches at the seminary at Princeton. But for a while he lived in Atlanta, and attended a Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. Like most downtown churches, it has to cope with the problem of the homeless. So they opened up their gymnasium in the winter as a shelter. It was the practice of that church, as it is in this church when we open our buildings as a shelter in the winter months, to have people from the church serve as hosts and hostesses.  

Long volunteered to be a host one night. The night came and since no one else volunteered, he invited a friend to come and join him. His friend was not a member of that church. In fact, he wasn't a member of any church. But periodically, in their conversations about religious matters, this friend would say, "Tom, I'm not a theologian, but it seems to me...," and then he would express his opinion.

On this night as they were hosting the shelter, they met the men as they arrived, saw that they had something to eat, hung out with them for a while. Then as the men began to prepare to retire, Tom's friend said, "Tom, you get some sleep. I will stay with them the first watch, then I'll wake you up, and you can come and stay with them for the rest of the night."  

So the friend stayed up and mingled with the guests, listened to them, asked questions about who they were, what had happened to them in their lives that they were now homeless. At 2:00 a.m. he went in and woke up Tom. He said, "Wake up! Wake up! I want you to come and see this. Granted I am no theologian, but I think that Jesus is down there." 

It was promised. "Those who show hospitality to the least of these," he said, "have done it to me."

Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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7.     Living without Christ 

Fred Craddock once told a parable about a man who moved into a cottage equipped with a stove and simple furnishings. As the sharp edge of winter cut across the landscape, the cottage grew cold as did its occupant. He went out back and pulled a few boards off the house to kindle the fire. The fire was warm, but the house seemed as cold as before. More boards came off for a larger fire to warm the now even colder house, which in return required an even larger fire, demanding more boards. In a few days the man cursed the weather, cursed the house, cursed the stove, and moved away...
 

From Father Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     The tale of the star:

Eusebius, a scholarly church historian of the early fourth century, evidently made a considerable study of the literature available to him, and came to this conclusion about the star: "The star was new and a stranger among the usual lights of heaven, a strange star, not one of the many known stars, but being new and fresh." A recent writer, Robert McIver, has spent 3 decades researching this subject. In his book, Star of Bethlehem - Star of Messiah, published 1998, he cites star records from ancient Chinese and Korean astronomers who both noted such an unusual new star about the time of Christ’s birth. He also discusses paintings in the Roman catacombs, as well as coins from various countries which depict an unusual star about this time. He even notes possible interpretations, but it is at least an interesting coincidence, if nothing else, that such indications of an unusual new star at about the time of Christ’s birth can be found all over the world. (SOURCE: "When They Saw The Star" by Henry M. Morris).  

2.     Every December, Mrs. Diane Bartosik  

wears a little golden pin on her United Airlines uniform. It’s a beautiful pin depicting the three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem. In her work as a flight attendant, people will sometimes comment on the beauty of the pin. She uses those situations as opportunities to be a witness for Christ. She wore that little pin on her flight to Los Angeles this past week. She came to one seat, where there were two young girls, seven and ten years old. The seven year old said, "That’s a pretty pin." Diane responded, "Do you know what the pin means?" They both looked carefully at the three men on camels following a star . . . . and then said, "No." They didn’t know what it signified. Then Diane explained, "It’s the three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus." "Do you know that story?" They both said, "No". They had never heard it before. Over the next few hours as they flew across the Pacific, many people commented on the beautiful pin; but to Diane’s amazement, not a single one seemed to understand or at least did not acknowledge that they understood what it symbolized. Throughout the flight, people were attracted to the glitter of the pin --- but in every case, the people Diane met were either indifferent to its meaning, or did not understand its meaning, or in one case a mother did not want her little six-year-old son to even hear the story of the birth of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Wise men. 

3.     Epiphany of a pilot:  

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle yesterday when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft's electronic navigation and communications equipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter's position and course to steer it to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter's window. The pilot's sign said "Where am I?" in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said "You are in a helicopter." The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to Sea-Tac airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the "You are in a helicopter" sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded "I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, similar to their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer."

 4.  Artaban the fourth Wise Man:
 
In 1895, Henry van Dyke wrote the "Story of the Other Wise Man," a fourth wise man called Artaban. Our hero is not mentioned in the Gospel because he missed the caravan. He got to Bethlehem too late to see the baby Jesus. But Artaban did make it in time to save one of the Holy Innocents by bribing a soldier. For 33 years Artaban searched for Jesus. He did not find him. But all the while the Fourth wise man fed the hungry, helped the poor. Then one day in Jerusalem Artaban saw the "King of the Jews" being crucified. He started to offer a pearl as ransom. But then he saw a girl being sold into slavery to pay family debts. Artaban gave his pearl to buy freedom for the girl. Suddenly the earth quaked as Jesus died on the cross and a stone struck Artaban. Dying, he heard a voice saying: "When you helped the least of my children, you helped me. Meet me in heaven!" Artaban, the fourth Wise Man, had been making God present in his community for years by helping others. God asks each of us on the feast of Epiphany to be a fourth Wise Man by becoming God’s epiphanies, making His love present in the world around us by our acts of love and kindness.

5.  “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.”
 
Little Amy was looking through the family album and found a picture of a man sitting behind a cow. All that was visible was the man’s legs and feet. When her photographer uncle who owned a photo studio came to visit her mother Amy told him, “This is the only picture of my grandfather that we have. So please remove the cow so that I may see what he looked like." It is the same curiosity which led the Magi to follow the star of Bethlehem.  A survey was made among school children asking the question why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” The same element of suspense marked the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit was going to take them down next. Today’s readings invite us to have the curiosity of Amy and the school students so that we may discover the "epiphany" of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere.

6.  Epiphany under water
 
There was once a holy monk who lived in Egypt. One day a young man came to visit him. The young man asked: "Oh, holy man, I want to know how to find God." The monk was muscular and burly. He said: "Do you really want to find God?" The young man answered: "Oh, but I do." So the monk took the young man down to the river. Suddenly, the monk grabbed the young man by the neck and held his head under water. At first the young man thought the monk was giving him a special baptism. But when after one minute the monk didn’t let go, the young man began struggling. Still the monk wouldn’t release him. Second by second, the young man fought harder and harder. After three minutes, the monk pulled the young man out of the water and said: "When you desire God as much as you desired air, you will have the epiphany of God." 

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From the Connections 

The light of God’s eye

Once upon a time there was a young woman who longed to see God.  Her name was Stella.  All her young life Stella had prayed, worked hard, helped others and gave to the poor and needy generously and compassionately.  But still, she longed to see God — to look God in the pupil of his eye.

She told a wise old man of her desire to see God.  The old man listened and understood.  He told Stella, “Beginning tonight, go out and count the stars.  Start with the middle star in the Orion belt and count to the east.  Do not count any star twice.  When you have counted the ten thousandth star, you will be looking into the very light of God’s eye.”

And so, that night, Stella went out and began to count the stars.  After several hours, she had counted hundreds of stars.  She returned the next night and the next night and the next night.  What she didn’t realize was that as she counted far into the eastern sky, the stars were revolving and turning through the heavens.  One night, twelve months later, Stella was counting aloud, “Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-eight.  Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.”  As she concluded her count, she realized that the ten thousandth star was the middle star of Orion’s belt, the very star she had started with a year before.  She found her heart filled with the greatest joy and wonder as she gazed at the star, for the star seemed to be gazing back at her.

That very night she ran to the house of the wise old man and told him what she had seen.

“My daughter,” he explained, “you were looking for the light of God’s eye.  But God was there all along.  You just didn’t realize it.  The whole sky had to move through one complete revolution just so you could recognize what was right in front of you to start with.  God moved heaven and earth to bring you to this moment.  That’s how much God loves you!  The eye with which you look at God is the very same eye with which God is looking at you.”

[Adapted from Keepers of the Story: Oral Traditions in Religion by Megan McKenna.] 

“When your life is filled with the desire to see holiness in everyday life,” Rabbi Harold S. Kushner writes, “something magical happens:  Ordinary life becomes extraordinary, and the very process of life begins to nourish your soul.”  The star of Epiphany challenges us to see our own lives in the light of God in our midst.  As the magi undertakes the long and arduous journey in search of the new-born king by the light of the mysterious star, Stella discovers, guided by the wise elder, God in her midst, in every moment of time, in every place along her journey.  Epiphany challenges us to slow down and check our own bearings on our life’s journey, to focus on the “star” we should follow to make our lives all that God has created them to be, to fix our lives on the constant, eternal values of peace, compassion, mercy, justice, and forgiveness that are Emmanuel — ‘God-with-us.’ 
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From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading, Ezekiel, gives us a beautiful picture of Himself as the Shepherd. It is a picture of a shepherd walking in the middle of his sheep, going back and forth among them, looking for the lost, carrying the weak and wounded in his arms. It is a picture of a shepherd, which in biblical times always had overtones of kingship, as with David the shepherd king. Just as the shepherd king cared for his flock, God’s love for us is personal, individual, and there is nothing beyond God’s love that we need.
 
Part of a great movement
Powerful instincts reside within the human heart. One of these instincts produces a yearning to be part of something great, to be involved in a movement that will change history, to become immortal through sharing in a grand enterprise of worldwide proportions. Throughout history unscrupulous men have taken advantage of this strong instinct. Adolf Hitler is a prime example of how an egomaniac who possesses what today is called “charisma” can scoop almost an entire nation into the palm of his hand. From our vantage point in time we may look back and wonder that rational and responsible human beings were so easily duped until we realize how passionate the hunger to be significant can become. Because he understood this passion, Hitler based his oratory on the principle that if the lie you tell is big enough, people will believe it. In effect he demanded that his people turn over to him their being so that the goals of a master race could be achieved. -Christ as our King claims dominion over all creation. He alone deserves to receive a throne within our hearts. Powerful though he is, he does not win our hearts by force of conquest. Rather he invites us to be the people of his eternal and universal kingdom. He does not play upon our instinct to be part of greatness; he fulfills it.
Charles Miller in ‘Sunday Preaching’

Matthew’s Gospel passage gives us a vision of the last judgement, when all nations, without distinction between Jew and gentile, without discrimination between priest and people, are assembled before the king. We should not think that the vision points only to the end of this world, because it reminds us of the kind of community where Jesus sees himself to be recognized, the kind of people where Jesus sees himself to be at home. The reading tells us that first there will be a separation of the sheep from the goats, the good at the right and the bad at the left. What the sole criterion for judgement for worthiness for citizenship in the Kingdom of God, is our exercise of love. Jesus illustrates his criterion with simple things that everybody can do: feeding the hungry, giving thirsty people a drink, making a stranger welcome, providing covering for the ill-clothed, comforting the sick, and visiting those in jail. But even these simple manifestations of love are often neglected by us. These love-criteria can be put into practice literally and have been called the ‘Corporal works of Mercy’, which the Church and her followers have practiced down the ages. We should note that in Matthew’s vision we have a list of human needs and appropriate responses by a caring community. None of these needs is specifically religious. The criterion does not exalt those who spent long hours in prayer, fasting and penance, they rather focus on the needs of the human heart. To these human needs there is the response of the kingdom people. That response is an authentic human response and therefore a profoundly religious one.
 
Whatsoever you do to the least, you do unto me.
Joe’s query was not out of concern for my welfare but rather to highlight his own predicament. He merely asked whether I had eaten a meal that day. He had not and with that frosty evening closing in he was not likely to eat one unless I provided it. One way or another he assured me that he would survive, as there were many days when he did not have a decent meal but it would be greatly appreciated if he could have one now. Like an alert T.D., he quickly added the supplementary question to ask if I had ever gone two days in winter without a meal. The plea was irresistible. When Joe left I was filled with gratitude towards and deep appreciation of thousands of people throughout the land who provide meals on wheels, who care for the aging or sick relatives or neighbours, or who work in the Vincent de Paul Society or the aid agencies. Today’s gospel is a salute to all such workers and helpers. Jesus assures them that every act of kindness done to one in need is done to himself and will be rewarded accordingly. It is a good gospel to keep before our minds in the run up to Christmas.
Tom Clancy in ‘Living the Word’
 
Doing good
There was a queue of people outside the gates of heaven. Each person was asked the question: ‘Why do you think you should be admitted?’ The first person in the queue, a very religious man, said, ‘I studied the Bible every day.’ ‘Very good,’ said the Lord.’ However, we’ll have to carry out an investigation to see why you studied the Bible. So please step aside for a moment!’ The second was a very pious woman who said, ‘Lord, I said my prayers every day without fail.’ ‘Very good,’ the Lord answered. ‘However, we’ll have to see if your motives were pure, so step aside for a moment.’Then an innkeeper approached. He just said, ‘Lord on earth I wasn’t a very religious man, but my door was always open to the homeless, and I never refused food to anyone who was hungry.’ ‘Very good,’ said the Lord. ‘In your case no investigation is needed, Go right in.’ -It has been said that if you do a good deed, but have an ulterior motive, it would be better not to do it at all. The only exception is charity. Even though it isn’t as good as doing it with a pure motive, it is still a good deed, and benefits the other person, no matter what your motive.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’
 
The Beggar King
In his book The Christian Vision, John Powell recalls an old Irish legend. It seems that the reigning king had no children to succeed him on the throne. So he has his messengers post signs in every town and village of his kingdom inviting qualified young man to apply for an interview with the king. This way the king hoped to be able to choose a successor before he died. Two qualifications, especially, were stressed. The person must have a deep love for God and for his neighbour. The young man around whom the legend centres saw one of the signs. He, indeed, had a deep love for God and neighbour. He felt a kind of inner voice telling him to apply for an interview. But the young man was so poor that he didn’t have decent clothes to wear to an interview. He also had no money to buy provisions for the long journey to the king’s castle. He finally decided to beg for the clothes and the provisions he needed. After a month of travel, one day the young man caught sight of the king’s castle. At about the same time, he also caught sight of a poor old beggar sitting by the side of the road. The beggar held out his hands and pleaded for help. “I’m hungry and cold,” he said. “Could you give me something warm to wear and something nourishing to eat?” The young man was moved by the sight of the beggar. He stripped off his warm outer clothes and exchanged them for the tattered old coat of the beggar. He also gave the beggar most of the provisions he had been carrying in his backpack. Then, somewhat uncertainly, he walked on to the castle in tattered clothes and without enough food for his return trip. When the young man arrived at the castle, guards met him and took him to the visitors’ area. After a long wait, the young man was led in to see the king.He bowed low before the throne. When he straightened up, the young man could hardly believe his eyes. He said to the king, “You were the beggar beside the road.” “That’s right,” said the king. “Why’d you do this to me?” asked the young man. “I had to find out,” said the king, “if you really did love God and neighbour.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
 
Loyal to the Master
Once a soldier was taken before the Roman magistrate. His crime was that of being a Christian. The magistrate asked him, “Are you a Christian?” The Christian soldier relied, “Yes”. The magistrate enquired, “If so, are you the enemy of Caesar?” The Christian replied, “No.” “Then you must offer incense to the image of Caesar”, said the magistrate. The Christian replied boldly, “I refused to offer any incense to the Caesar. God, and God alone must be adored and worshipped. Jesus alone is my God and I love and worship Him alone.” The magistrate threatened saying, “If you refuse I will sever your head from your body.” The Christian boldly replied, “You may cut off my head from my shoulder, but you cannot separate my heart from my king and God-Jesus Christ.” The Christian was decapitated.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’
 
Hidden face of Christ
In the year 1880 in Paris a rather poorly dressed priest showed up at a presbytery looking for a night’s lodgings. He had come all the way from Turin, in Italy, and was trying to raise funds to build a church. The visitor’s name was John Bosco, but this meant nothing to the resident priest, so he put him in the attic. Many years later when John Bosco was declared a saint by the Church, the priest said, ‘had I known it was John Bosco, I would not have put him in the attic; I would have given him the best room in the house.’ We never know exactly who it is we are meeting in the person of our neighbour. But this is not important. What is important is that we see in that person a needy human being, and that we do our best to meet his need. For those with faith, behind the face, no matter how strange, the face of Christ lies hidden.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’
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