Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 8: Epiphany of the Lord

January 4, 2023

One body

Is 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

Editors’ note: It is with great sadness that we mourn the Nov. 8, 2022 ,death of Passionist Father Donald Senior, whose Scripture column we were honored to publish over the past six years. As we look for a new Scripture columnist, we will continue reprinting Father Don’s past columns, with the permission of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes being a Christian means moving against the tide. Judging from current political trends, maintaining a global perspective and seeking to transcend social and economic boundaries might be a Christian stance that is a lot less popular today.

The feast we celebrate today — the first Sunday of our calendar year — emphasizes the universal reach of Christian faith. At its heart is the account in Matthew’s Gospel of the “Magi from the east” who, following the direction of the stars, come seeking the Christ child.

Most interpreters believe that the visitors came from ancient Persia, the area of present-day Iran (itself somewhat ironic, given our current relationship with Iran). They were astrologers who, like so many in the ancient world, were stargazers trying to discern human destiny in the configuration of the heavenly bodies. In this case, it is evident that the Spirit of God is drawing them by a unique star, first to Jerusalem where they learn of the birthplace of the Messiah from the accumulated wisdom of Israel and its Scriptures, and then to Bethlehem where the guiding star rests over the place where the infant Jesus lays.

Unlike Herod, who views the birth of Jesus with jealousy and suspicion, these strangers offer Jesus their homage, “gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” This account, unique to Matthew’s Gospel, echoes the first reading for today from the prophet Isaiah who foresees the “nations,” illumined by God’s “shining radiance,” and with the “darkness that covers the earth” dispelled, come to Jerusalem, God’s holy city, “from afar” and “proclaim the praises of the Lord.”

This motif of the pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem is found in several places in Isaiah. It signals that instead of suffering invasion by powerful enemies, which was often the fate of Israel, God’s people would now enjoy respect and harmony. The response with Psalm 72 trumpets the same vision of universal peace: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” In an ecstatic burst of praise, the psalmist acclaims: “Justice shall flower in his days and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May the Lord rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

Similarly, in the Letter to the Ephesians, which is a summary of Paul’s theological vision, the author declares that “the Gentiles are coheirs (with Israel), members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”

The most profound conviction of our Christian faith is that all of us, no matter our ethnicity or race, culture or history, are all children of God and destined to be “one body in Christ.” Our differences matter, and are not to be ignored but celebrated as, at their best, reflections of the infinite beauty of God. 

But even more fundamental than our diversity is our unity before God. The Bible asserts this truth from its opening pages. Genesis portrays God’s creation of the human being from the dust of the earth as the summit of creation, an act of love on God’s part that astoundingly shapes the human being in “the image and likeness of God” capable of knowledge and freedom and love.

In his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis reminds us of three intertwined relationships that define human destiny: with God, as his daughters and sons; with each other as fellow human beings; and with the earth and the universe of which we are a part. It is that breathtaking universal scope of our Christian horizon that we celebrate today.

The Epiphany, which means in Greek the “manifestation,” reminds us as followers of Jesus we are to embrace the world and its peoples, bringing peace and justice as our universal mission.

This column has been adapted from the Dec. 22, 2019, issue.


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