Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Vigil of the Epiphany of the Lord

Mass on the Occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

January 7, 2023
St. Michael Church
Bedford, Texas

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

The solemnity of the Epiphany is about God’s self-revelation that both offers and requires the gift of faith. Through the solemnity of the Epiphany, God invites us into the mystery of the Truth, the Truth that we seek to discover through reason and science and the fuller Truth that we come to know through the gift of faith. One Truth, two paths: faith and reason. The Magi, whom we meet in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew are not simply people who have a warm spiritual experience in seeing the precious Baby Jesus, they are people who have followed their path laid out by reason and the science of their contemporary times and then receive the revelation that the Infant Jesus is truly the Son of God, worthy of nothing less than worship.

The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem 587 years before Christ was born. Those Jews whom the Babylonians did not kill, they captured, enslaved, and marched hundreds of miles from their native country to Babylon. Then 50 years later, the Persians conquered Babylon thereby freeing the Jews from the Babylonian captivity and allowing the Jews to return to their native land that had been promised to them by God. The Jews had an almost unimaginable task of rebuilding their home, the Temple, and their lives. Many of them had grown accustomed to the life of slavery and many more had no more than a vague memory of what life was like in Jerusalem before their parents and grandparents had been killed, captured, and enslaved.

It is important for us to remember that the painful effects of slavery upon them as families and as a people did not simply come to an end when the Persians conquered the Babylonians. The Jews needed grace and the strength to make the journey towards the promised land and to become reacquainted with the expectations and duties of the Covenant. It was not a type of “special reset.” The return of the Jewish people did not involve the undertaking of a simple restoration of the days and places of old; the Jewish people instead undertook a fresh journey away from the false gods of slavery in Babylon towards the land that God, the true God, never stopped promising them.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies that Jerusalem will again be a great city and a light for the world. People from all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship God. Matthew reveals that this vision of Isaiah is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus with the visit of the Magi from Babylon and Persia. The Magi had embarked on a long journey from what is modern day Iraq and Iran to seek to discover a king because they were looking for an ally for them to oppose the Romans in war. They determine, from watching the stars, that such a powerful king is to be born among the Jews, and they navigate their way to Jerusalem by searching the sky and following a star. In Jerusalem they encounter Herod, a petty tyrant fearful of losing his power and status.

The Magi began their search for the discovery of a military leader, but instead they receive a revelation of the Son of God. Their search leads them to receive the revelation that the long-promised king is born in Bethlehem, but what they receive is beyond the human mind to discover with unaided reason — they receive the revelation that the Child is truly Divine and worthy of worship. They receive the revelation that in Bethlehem of Judea, the least among the cities of Israel is born the Son of God. Part of this revelation of faith includes their receiving a message in a dream to ignore the invitation of the evil and powerful Herod who schemes for them to return to him with information of the child so that he might kill the Infant Jesus.

The revelation that the Magi receive in faith guides them to decide to take a different route home and not return to Herod. They are made aware of Herod’s evil scheme and decide to refuse to have any part of it because they are changed and converted by the faith given to them by the Infant Jesus.

For the previous thirty-seven years during this month of January, we have the custom in the Diocese of Fort Worth to offer Mass to ask God for His gift of peace and authentic justice and deliverance from the sin and social injustice of racism. The civil celebration of the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior Day is the catalyst for this occasion for our prayers, that each of us turn away from this evil, reject complicit and passive tolerance of this evil, and pray that we embrace the revelation offered by the Infant Jesus given to the Magi, that each person of different races and color belongs to Him and through Him to each other in the humanity we share and the humanity He redeems. Christ has come to save and to redeem not just one race or nation, but to save and to redeem people of every race and nation.

Just as the painful effects of slavery upon the Jews as a people did not simply come to an end when the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and just as the Jews needed God’s grace and strength to make the journey towards the land promised to them by God and away from the false gods of their slavery in Babylon, thus, the end of institutionalized slavery in 1865 in our nation and the end of legalized forms of racial segregation in 1965 are not enough to heal the effects of each of these evils that have had cyclical effects for generations. These wounds can only be healed by the same grace and conversion offered and revealed by the Christ Child to the Magi that Jesus offers and reveals to us today. Without this grace of conversion and revelation of the Truth that only God can offer, we are doomed to make false gods of race, money, violence, and power, and we will be enslaved by them and perish in our own schemes to reject the Christ Child as a rival for our own desires just as Herod did.

The solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God’s glory beginning with but moving beyond the Jewish nation to all nations. This revelation of Jesus as Son of God is known through faith and given to men and women of every race throughout the entire world. This act of faith is the only way by which we can be converted from sin and by which we can be saved as a society from racism. The Magi challenge us to be watchful for the guiding light of our lives. How does God direct us and lead us? Where is His light and what prevents us from seeing that light? The Magi challenge us not to be satisfied with our lives in the status quo indifferent to racial enmity, but to continue to dream and to hope … to continue to grow in our willingness to accept the revelation that the Christ Child gave to the Magi and to be converted and to act on it. Faith is not simply positive thinking nor a mere spiritual experience; faith carries with it an objective character by which the Truth is fully known, and it is the fullness of this Truth that enlightens our eyes, bolsters our wills, and sets us free.

In a few moments we will offer the gifts of bread and wine to Almighty God — the gifts He desires to receive, gifts that surpass the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh — so that the Christ Child might give us the gift of His own Body and Blood sacrificed for our salvation from the power of darkness, that we might be converted and accept the gift of the Light of His Revelation that He has come in the flesh to save all of us, men and women of every race and people and that we must work together for the peace that only He can give.

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