Thoughts on Epiphany 2024
In times past and in some cultures today, Epiphany is a festive celebration, the origin of the custom of gift-giving at Christmas. It also marks the end of the Christmas season and a time to take down decorations!
Aside from that Epiphany has some important things to teach us as we begin this New Year.
The year 2024 will likely be a very important year for all of us. What happens this year will lead the world to greater peace or the brink of a possible world war. It will guide the Church along the path of active listening to the Spirit, or perhaps deepen the divisions we already experience. It may well test the foundations of our civil society and system of governance.
For all these serious opportunities or threats, Epiphany has something to tell us, some advice on our journey ahead.
For Matthew, the Magi are important – astrologers or astronomers from Persia, their gifts indicate a connection to Arabia or the Syrian desert. By including them in his telling of the Nativity Story, Matthew is making the point that this Good News of the revelation of God’s love, of God being with us – is meant for all the Nations, not just the Jewish people of the promise. To all people.
Writing a bit earlier than Matthew, St. Paul made the same point: in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free – all are one, all are included in the gift of God’s grace in Christ and meant to be members of His Body.
Epiphany is often celebrated as a feast of light. The light of God now in the world, come to us in time.
In the year ahead each of us will be asked to make decisions. To decide whom to believe. It is likely that hear and read a lot of things – political ads, questions within the church, questions of public policy will claim “choose me” this is the side of light and truth and, they might even say, this is the side of God.
How to know which light is of God and which light is only masquerading as good but in fact is hurtful, harmful or even evil?
To know what is really of the light, we need to measure each question by the example of Jesus.
What did he do and teach (and we hear what he did and said when we read the Gospels, when we hear them proclaimed at Mass). For example, in telling us of the Magi, Matthew is saying that God’s love is for all people, excluding no one. Therefore I can ask, “Is what I am being told is the truth – does that exclude people or certain kinds of people from God’s love, does it allow or encourage or promote discrimination or fear toward others?” If so, it is very likely not of God.
- Does what I am being asked to support or believe or vote for – does that demonize others?
- Does it set us one against another? Does it promote – or attack the human dignity of each person and their right to live a life with access to food, water, medical care, equality under the law; does it promote the care of our natural universe, or does it continue a history of exploitation and short-sighted use that has put the planet at serious risk?
- Does what I am being asked to support or believe benefit the poorest and most vulnerable int his world – for that is the teaching of Jesus and the traditional Social teaching of the Church.
To any serious question this year – use this as a measuring guide: Does what I am being asked to do or support or believe, does this fit with the example, the words and actions of Jesus as found in the Gospels?
St. John summarized this question with his own measuring guide – does what you are being asked to choose lead to the love of your brother and sister or not. If not, it is not of God and to say otherwise is to be a liar.
The Magi had to follow the star to find Jesus – follow carefully and over some difficult terrain. And they had to deal with Herod who, as Fr. James Martin, S.J. put it, tried to twist their holy desires and trick them.
What in the year ahead will lead us closer to Jesus – to keep us close to the light we celebrate today? What is your star?
Fr Martin names these: The Sacraments, prayers, reading Scripture, helping those in need, a friend who helps you to be more loving, a place that helps you to pray. A particular way of praying.
Some will, like Herod, will try to discourage you or distract you from the truth.
This is likely to be an important and difficult year. Stay close to the Light of Truth. Judge everything by Jesus’ example of love, inclusion, forgiveness, courage and self-sacrifice.
Fr. Paul Sullivan, S.J.