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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

Epiphany 2023

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany which follows closely on the heels of Christmas. The two feasts, while distinct, are really celebrations of the same event. God has become man, the Word has taken flesh, the infinite has stepped into time. And yet, we would be amiss if we didn’t acknowledge the differences and distinctions to be made between Christmas and Epiphany. So, how are they different? The distinct mark of the Epiphany is that it shows not only that God became man, but that He has taken flesh not only for the Jewish people but for the Gentiles as well. He is that “light to [revealed] to the nations and the glory of [God’s] people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

We often take for granted that the Gospel is meant for all mankind. It is an obvious truth to many if not all of us. However, as is the case when we take things for granted, we tend to go on asserting our presumed belief without wonder and amazement, with tired and lukewarm hearts. We believe that God loves all men and has taken flesh for the salvation of all humanity but we have grown numb to the profundity of this truth.

Throughout Scripture God establishes a series of covenants with His people Israel. He promises to be their God and they will be His people through keeping “the commandments of the Lord [their] God by walking in His ways and by fearing Him” (Deuteronomy 8:6). But the Lord’s invitation into a covenantal relationship is offered strictly to the Jewish people. It is an exclusive privilege. If you did not have Jewish blood running through your veins, if you were a Gentile, you were not invited to this covenant. There were no obligations binding you and there were no enjoyed benefits of such a covenant. I presume that most of us are not of Jewish origin. We would have been Gentiles. We would have been excluded from Israel’s covenant.

So what about the poor Gentiles? Has God forgotten them? Has He abandoned them? Not in the slightest. You will find scattered throughout the Old Testament prophecies and promises that one day God would gather the foreign nations to Himself. A once exclusive relationship would become all inclusive. You see such a prophecy from Isaiah in today’s first reading: “raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses ... Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” The Lord did not hate or despise the nations foreign to Israel. He longed for their salvation. He gradually revealed Himself to His people. And when the time had come for God to be born of a woman, He fully revealed Himself not only to the nation of Israel but to the Gentiles as well, with the wisemen being the first among the Gentiles.

The wisemen were not members of the Jewish people. They were from the East and of a different religion. And yet God had drawn them to Himself by the guiding light of a star. We see clearly on the feast of the Epiphany that God desires to draw all to Himself.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: do we desire that all come to know and love God? Do we desire the salvation of all just as our Lord does? There is this tendency to only care about our own salvation and not care about the wellbeing and salvation of others. We privatize our religion and make it only about myself and God. In the words of Ronald Knox,

“Even in our own lives, how fond we are of making a little enclave, a little Bethlehem that just has head room for our set, and leaving the rest of the world unshepherded! But Epiphany signals to us that all men have rights, have duties, are dear to Christ. We have seen his Star, and our sympathies must be no narrower than his planer” (Knox, Stimuli, 21-22).

We must not privatize our relationship with God. To do so is a problem. Look at history and you will see many saints who worked tirelessly to bring the good news of Jesus to others, to offer a light to others just as Mary presented Jesus to the wisemen. Look at the apostles who carried out the Gospel to the East and West as far as they could go. Look at our own Bishop Baraga who left the comfort of his home in Slovenia to bring the Gospel to the people of the Upper Peninsula. Do we have the courage to do the same? Do not make the mistake of thinking you must go across the world to bring Jesus to the Gentiles. There are unbelievers in our own families. There are unbelievers next door to us, across the street from us. There are fallen away Catholics among our friends and coworkers. Do we sympathize with our Lord and desire their salvation? Will we show the light of the Gospel to them? Everyone is searching restlessly for God although they might not know it. Their hearts will not rest until they rest in God, until they reach that stable where God has entered the world, until they realize that God has become man. What role will we play in their search and in their journey?

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