RISE UP IN SPLENDOR!
Catholic Homily/Sunday Liturgical Reflections
SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD
January 4, 2008
In life, we do have experiences that more or less change the tone, or the direction of our lives. Certain events planned or unplanned that take place in the course of our growth and development either make us or break us…an experience of serious sickness, a life-threatening situation, an unexpected turn of events whether positive or negative, like an unexpected promotion, or a demotion for that matter… the birth of a first son or daughter for young or older couples…the coming of brilliant luminaries and leaders in the church and in society…The list is endless. The one point of commonality is the fact that such events, known to sociologists as “marker events” steer the course of our lives inextricably, irreversibly…for ever!
One such event that changed the course of human history forever is the coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Today’s liturgy is a celebration, not primarily of that event, but what that event stood for and meant for “a people that walked in darkness” and “who have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” (MT 4:16). Today’s solemnity of the Epiphany, which, as we all know, meant “manifestation” counts among these “marker events” that cannot simply be glossed over in human history.
The event was so important and significant that the inspired writers speak about a star that led the wise men from the east to go and do him homage and bring meaningful and prophetic gifts to the newborn child. The coming of the wise men, we have always been told, represented the “unveiling” or the “revelation” of who that child was to the gentile world. In short, Jesus, the Son of God was manifested for who he really and fully was, to the gentiles.
This much, we all know by now. It has been rehashed and repeated for us to hear, year in and year out. But surely something that changes the course and tenor of history is much too meaningful and significant to be fossilized in just this particular understanding that I outlined above. What else could this origin of gift-giving have as meaning for us here and now?
I would like to start with something that seems so obvious it has been glossed over so often and so long… the meaning of gift-giving, its origin, its purpose. I mean here not the symbolism of the gifts brought by the magi. That too, has been talked about so often. I mean here the basic significance of gift-giving in relation to the birth of Christ, whom the Magi spent time and money for just to do him homage. A gift is something one gives freely, unilaterally. That is why it is called a gift. It is not forced, not bought, not insisted on. It is just given…period. Or it is given in return for something given in its turn, something so valued, so appreciated that it is returned in kind, it is reciprocated. When such is given, it stands for deep appreciation, a deep recognition of something considered so important and so valued as to merit a reciprocal act. Epiphany is precisely this, too… a recognition of a gift so precious, that it merits a return gift…grace upon grace…no less. This is the pearl of great price that a man who chances upon it and finds it is willing to let go of all he has just to get back to that treasure and have it in return! This is the gift of a grateful heart, the appreciation of one who dwelt in a land overshadowed by death, but for whom light has arisen (cf. Mt 4:16 supra). This is a gift of recognition, a gift of acknowledgement that indeed “salvation has dawned upon us” (cf. Lk 1:71). This gift of the birth of the savior so changed the tenor of the lives, not only of the Magi, but also of generation upon generation that they went out of their way, and journeyed in search, just to do him homage. Their lives were changed for the better.
But alas, as Simeon so prophetically stated, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34), the manifestation of the Son of God, disrupted the life of a very powerful man at that time – Herod. The news of the birth of the Messiah forever changed the tenor of life of one who felt insecure, fearful and unhappy at the turn of events. Who should be coming to do him homage but foreigners – gentiles who had nothing to do with the Jewish faith? The event made Herod so fearful that he plotted the death of so many innocent children.
There is a streak of the Magi and of Herod in all of us. The question perhaps that we need to ask ourselves is: what events are powerful enough to make us lose composure and lose sleep over? What sort of surprises in our lives make us feel insecure and fearful? Who are the people that threaten us, and why? On the other hand, what events make us better people. What turns our own “stars” to light up and goad us on to do the good we ought to do? What sort of guiding stars do we follow? What type of people lead us on to try better and do better for ourselves and for others? What is it in our history and current events that make us strive to become luminaries and good examples to others in our own right?
Or is there anything that turns us off completely? Is there anything that makes us lose luster, light and altogether give up hope for? What makes us feel defeated and worn out?
The choices are clear for us: either be one of the excited and hopeful Magi, or be a bitter, sullen, and fearful Herod.
The first makes us people of hope. This makes us “rise up in splendor.” For “our light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines upon us.” This is the type of people for whom the event of epiphany was not lost on them. They are people of acknowledgement and recognition, not a people of denial. They find joy in others’ joy, in others’ successes. They are a people with the abundance mentality, not the scarcity mentality, that would lead to sadness just because others may have done some good. This is the type of people who would not feel uneasy about giving to others what is due to them – the recognition and acceptance that they have done well. The second type belongs to the ranks of a man eaten by worms of envy, sad and sullen, and unable to give due recognition to what others have accomplished. This is the narrow mindedness of people with a scarcity mentality who see no room for the ability of others to contribute to the good of all. This is the type of people who are forlorn in their inability to give credit where credit is due. They miss the coming of the Messiah, because they are too busy trying to be what they are not meant to be. They are a people devoid of hope because they think they already have what it takes to become whatever they want. This is the type of people who would dampen all enthusiasm because they always douse cold water to well-meaning intents of people who only want to work for the common good. This is the sad state of Philippine politics so caught up in selfish concerns, that everyone feels the need to shoot down each other’s initiatives because each one feels left out of the scene, left out of the picture, as it were.
What does it take us to proclaim along with the psalmist in joy…”Lord, every nation on earth will adore you?” Not much. All it takes is a little recognition. All it takes is for us to see and really see the light that has shone. All it takes is for us to acknowledge that marker event, that momentous happening in our lives as sons and daughters of God. All we need is to see the manifestation of the Son of God. All we need is to say along with the Magi: “We saw his star at its rising, and have come to do him homage.”
Rise up in splendor, you sad sacks! Rise up in splendor all of us who are in any form of fear and insecurity! Rise up in splendor all of us who may have given in to a little pessimism and doubt and worry for the new year just began! Rise up in hope! Rise up in joy! Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord!”