Solemnity of the Epiphany: Called to be Showoffs
We continue the celebration of Christmas with the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This is one of the most important celebrations of the Church year. We can appreciate the importance of the celebration more here in Tarpon Springs, Florida than in most of the rest of the United States because our Greek Orthodox neighbors place a greater emphasis on the Epiphany than on the Nativity. The word Epiphany means manifestation or showing. The celebration of the Epiphany is the celebration that God’s plan for salvation is revealed and offered to all people. We are included. We are part of the wonder of the Incarnation. Christ came for us all today, not just for a small group of people who lived many years ago in a far away land.
This just one of the many facets of the celebration of the Epiphany. There is the continuation of the Christmas Event, with the magi bringing their gifts. It is romantic to place the magi in our Nativity scenes, but the Gospel of Matthew says that they entered a house, so perhaps people found a home for the Holy Family after the shepherds left. The Epiphany celebrates the three first manifestations of Jesus to the world, to the Magi, at his baptism by John, and at the wedding feast of Cana, sometimes I like to speak about each of these. The second reading from Ephesians speaks about the mystery hidden for all ages that the Savior of mankind would come from the Jews, uniting all people co-heirs of the with the Son and co-partners of the promise.
What I would like to focus on today is our participation in the Epiphany. By that, I don’t meant that we should go and jump into Spring Bayou this afternoon, but we are called to participate in the Epiphany.
How? By being showoffs. Usually we are told that we shouldn’t be showoffs. When we were young and flaunted some skill or knowledge that we had, others would say to us, “Stop showing off.” But the Epiphany, the showing of the Lord, is telling us, that when it comes to our Christianity, to our Catholicism. We also show the Lord. We should be showoffs.
We need to show off our faith. Christianity, Catholicism, was never meant to be hidden. Jesus Christ was displayed before the world at His birth, during His baptism and through His public life, beginning with the wedding feast of Cana. We need to show His Presence to others in the very way we live our lives. There was an old saying that contains quite a bit of truth, “If we were ever brought to trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”
That doesn’t mean that we should be standing on boxes preaching on the corner. No, but we should be living in such a way that our faith burns through every aspect of our lives.
Our experiences here in St. Ignatius with the priests of the Missionary Society of St. Thomas, our priests from India, helps us focus on the way that Christians witness the faith. Right now, Fr. Thomas Kumblanthanath is in a village where he and, I believe, three sisters, are the only Christians. Fr. Mathew Moothesseril has been in similar situations. Now Fr. Thomas may never baptize anyone from that village. The sisters run a school, but, according to the government of India, they may not teach Christianity in any form, even as literature or history. They run a free clinic, but they would be imprisoned if one of the sisters taught the patients Christian prayers. Three sisters of the order are in prison right now, accused of giving people Bibles. So, how can these dedicated priests and sisters hope to be successful missionaries of Jesus Christ? They can’t do anything even remotely religious. How can they succeed? The answer is that by simply living as Christians, acting like Christians, they will be making the Presence of Christ a reality for the people. Fr. Thomas and Fr. Mathew told me that it may take two or three generations, but eventually, the people of the village will recognize that they can also manifest the Presence of Christ to others, and then they will embrace Christianity, no matter what the political situation may be. So, the priests who serve here from the Missionaries of St. Thomas are simply called to be epiphanies of Jesus Christ through their lives.
And so are we. We are called to live in such a way that our Christianity shines through every aspect of our lives. We come before the Lord to worship Him in Word and Eucharist. We continue our prayers life in the little Church that is our homes. We value our union with Christ and avoid anything which would diminish or destroy this union. We serve the Lord’s presence in others, and reach out to those who have needs by working in the various ministries of our parish such as the Pregnancy Center, the Food Pantry, Caritas and religious education, to mentions just a few. We serve the Lord’s presence is others by joining the ministries of our community, like the Cold Night Shelter and the Shepherd Center, and so many more that you folks are active in. We reach out not just to be humanists, but to be Christians. We care for others not as an add-on to our lives, but as a fundamental need of our Christianity. We need to be epiphanies of Jesus Christ for others,
What are the things that I do, that you do, which would cause others to say, “He or she is a Christian. He or she is a Catholic?” What more can we do? These are questions we should be asking ourselves. Our Christianity was not given to us to be kept hidden. Our faith is a gift we are entrusted with for others. Actually, there is no such thing as a secret Christian. Christ was manifested to all people. There is no secret involved. We should be showoffs for the Lord.
In the first reading for today, the prophet Isaiah predicts a time when the glory of God will shine upon His people. The rest of the world would be in darkness, but God out of his love would bring light through His chosen people. The Jews might have been an insignificant small band of people in the vast Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires, but they were the keepers of the Great Promise. They embraced this promise. They refined it and protected it in faith until they were formed and cultivated by God to be the people of the Messiah.
Now the Promise must be made public. The Promised One has come. He calls us to illuminate the darkness of our world with His Light. We do not have to be part of the darkness of the world. In fact, we are called to be different, to be holy, to be people of light who celebrate the Light of the World.
And it is this very difference, this determination to live for God that overflows from the depths of our being upon every aspect of our lives and enlightens others.
Jesus Christ is not our secret. The message of the Epiphany is that God's plan, Christ's coming, is a public event. We have been formed into a people shaped by the revelation of the Lord to become an epiphany of His Presence in the world. We are the wise men from the East. We are those to whom God has revealed Himself. We are the inheritors of the great promise made to the people of Israel. Now we are called to reveal this promise to the world. The promise is this: God is with His people.
My favorite opening prayer of the year is the option for this Sunday, “His light is strong. His love is near. May he draw us beyond the limits that this world imposes to the life where his Spirit makes all life complete.” And may we have the courage to be showoffs for Christ.