Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord – January 7/8, 2012
For the communities of Dignity/NoVA at Emmanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Arlington, VA and Dignity/Washington at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.
Today the Church invites us to continue reflecting on the Mystery of the Christmas message as we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany of the Lord. The traditional day for this celebration is January 6, and in some cultures it’s commonly referred to as Little Christmas. The word “Epiphany” means a “manifestation” or a “showing forth” and it commemorates the visit to the infant Jesus by the “astrologers” from the east, the Magi of whom Matthew speaks in today’s gospel. When we examine this passage along with the other Scriptures that are before us, we see that the theme and message of this feast is really very simple. Essentially, this day reminds us that the salvation which is to be bestowed on the House of Israel is not restricted to the House of Israel – that the gift of God’s very self is intended for all nations and all peoples. I suppose the message can be summed up quite easily in that one line from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which he describes as his “insight into the mystery of Christ.” Paul tells us “… that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
“So what?” you might ask. “What is so new about that? After all, our tradition for over two thousand years has acknowledged that the message of the Gospel is to be shared with all people.” The answer for us today, I think, can be found when we really reflect on the question, “What does it mean to be ‘members of the same body’ and ‘copartners of the promise’?”
The people of Jesus’ day believed that God would one day save his people – and so they looked forward with hopeful expectation to the coming of the Messiah. But for many the Messiah for whom they looked was not the apparently powerless infant of Bethlehem, but rather they awaited the coming of a powerful descendant of the House of David who would free his people from the oppression of foreign domination, bringing judgment and condemnation to those who were not of the Chosen People.
This feast we celebrate today reminds us that such a limited hope was misguided. It reminds us that the great gift of God in the person of God’s Son is not given merely to a single person, a single family, a single town, a single culture, a single nation, a single religion, or a single Church. No one – no priest or pope; no president, politician or presidential candidate; no bishop or pastor; no woman or man has a monopoly on that presence of God now Incarnate in the world. Epiphany reminds us that all peoples are the intended recipients of God’s gift of self and all that flows from this connection with the Divine. At is core, the message of the Lord’s Epiphany reminds us that the Gospel is characterized by inclusion, not exclusion; letting us not forget that there is more than enough room for all at the Lord’s Table and in God’s Kingdom.
Such a realization has great implications for those of us whom Paul refers to as “copartners,” or sharers, in the promise of the Gospel. We believe that we do indeed share in the gift of God’s promise to Israel and that the blessings of new life in Christ are ours. But there are two dimensions to that sharing. We are not only sharers in that we have received this gift in the passive sense; but we are also called to be sharers in the more active sense, being called to share this great gift of faith and of life with one another. We are called to share our gifts and our talents, to share all that we have and all that we are, to open the doors of our hearts and our lives to be a people who welcome and embrace others.
That’s not always an easy thing to do. One thing that can help us live up to that call is to develop a keener sense of being able to see – as did the Magi – the presence of God Incarnate in our world. Yes, it’s very, very easy to see situations in which God seems to be absent … but can we develop our senses of the soul so that we see and hear and touch the Divine so very present in the world all around us?
I don’t profess to be any better at this than anyone else, but here are just two examples from this past week in which I recognized God’s presence. I was fortunate enough to get away for a couple days last weekend and see the beauty of the dawn on New Year’s Day as the sun rose over the horizon. That sunrise – including time spent with a few special friends – was clearly painted by the hand of God, and for it I am very thankful. More recently I think we need to recognize the presence of God as seen in the very public apology delivered by a Cardinal of the Church, something that doesn’t happen very often. Chicago’s archbishop Cardinal Francis George publicly recognized the harm and hurt his words had done a week before in comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan. Just as I had been shocked by his initial comparison, I never expected that he would apologize has he has done. The cardinal said:
“I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused. Particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it’s part of our lives. So I’m sorry for the hurt.”
May our prayer this Epiphany day be that we are a not only able to see and name God in our midst, but that we may also be more faithful copartners in the promise of the Gospel by sharing God’s love, hope, presence and peace with everyone we meet every day of our lives.