Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

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This is a beautiful feast. We don’t have to go looking for it; it’s very close to us. It’s in front of our eyes.

Today is an explosion of light. Christ has both depth and breadth. His depth is his divinity, his eternity, his union with the Father. His breadth is his humanity. It’s his relevance, his connection to every one of us, all the way to the furthest away. ‘He shall rule from sea to sea, / from the Great River to earth’s bounds’, says the Psalm. ‘He shall save the poor when they cry / and the needy who are helpless’. And today it’s this universality – Jesus’ catholicity – which begins to rise, like a star, over the world’s horizon. Isaiah had already foreseen the return of scattered Israel, the diaspora Jews, to Jerusalem: ‘Lift up your eyes and look around: all are assembling and coming towards you’, your sons and daughters. But then his vision seems to expand. It’s not just Jews who come to Jerusalem, but the abandoned Gentiles too: ‘the riches of the sea will flow to you; the wealth of the nations come to you…everyone in Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and singing the praise of the Lord.’ And in the strange gift-bearing men from the east wo make their way to Jesus, this hope begins to be fulfilled. They’re the pioneers, the forerunners. Even ‘though night still covers the earth’, even though a Herod is king, prophecy is being fulfilled, and the star of faith guides the questing magi to their goal, these ‘people of inner unrest’ (Benedict XVI). And what began with them explodes again in the mission of the Church after Pentecost. Jesus is the Jew for all men, and Paul the Jew, who grasped this with his whole being, proclaims the pagans, the Gentiles – us! – as co-inheritors of heaven, co-members of the body of Christ, co-beneficiaries of the promises of God.

So this is our feast! It’s the feast of us Gentiles. We’re a fulfilment of prophecy too. We’re in the same caravan as the wise men. God ‘has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor 4:6). We’re headed for what the Collect calls ‘the beauty of your sublime glory’, the heavenly vision. And Sunday after Sunday we come, not by camel, but by car or bus or bicycle or foot. We don’t go to Jerusalem – Jesus wasn’t found there – but to humble Bethlehem, Bethlehem multiplied. Every church is a Bethlehem now. Every church is Mary’s house, like this cathedral. Every church has Jesus on its lap. In every church, what the magi did can be done: ‘they fell to their knees and did him homage’, worshipped him, adored him. In every church, Jesus is present in his depth and breadth, God and man. Present to his Father, present to us. Present and adorable most of all in the Blessed Sacrament. So, people of inner unrest, I hope, not quite satisfied with anything here below, we come. We come drawn by the star of faith, despite ourselves at times. Our hearts set on the heavenly beauty, Sunday after Sunday, we come, every Sunday a stretch nearer. We come with the gold of our love, the incense of prayer, the myrrh of our sadnesses and losses and sufferings. And Christ, and our mother the Church, accept them. There’s a fancy one wise man was from Africa, one from Asia, one from Europe. Now we’d need a fourth from the Americas and a fifth from Australasia! But the point is the breadth of Jesus. There’s another fancy that one was young, one middle-aged, one elderly. The point is the same. We can come from any place, at any age – it’s never too late to convert! – and be welcomed into this house. Jesus receives the gifts of any person, any culture, any age.

So, first of all, let’s give thanks: for the star of faith that God has set in the sky of our lives. Let’s give thanks for the catholicity of the Church, something we experience, Sunday after Sunday. And lastly let’s think of the magi: how they must have been changed by their meeting with Mary and Jesus. ‘They returned to their country by a different way’ – not just to avoid Herod, but because they were different men. And the star disappears. It disappears because now it’s in them. They’d discovered the joy of the Gospel – Evangelii Gaudium. They’d seen the light and, without knowing it perhaps, they’d become light. Night still covered the earth, and Herod was still on his throne, and so it is, more or less, still today. But now there were people with a star of faith and hope and love in their hearts. And now there’s us too. ‘In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, says St Paul… shine like stars…holding fast to the word of life’ (Phil 2:15-16). Let’s be like the magi, when we return home as well as coming here. Let’s not be ashamed of our faith. Let it shine out of us in what we do and say. And, as one last fancy – not a fancy at all – let’s pray, with the poet George Herbert, to this star:

‘Take a .. lodging in my heart

First with thy fire-work burn to dust
Folly, and worse than folly, lust:
Then with thy light refine,
And make it shine’ (The Starre).

 

And make it shine!