Solemnity of the Epiphany 2022
[Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12]
Over the initial days of Christmas, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit with family in Halifax. As might be anticipated in this time of pandemic winter travel, I encountered some challenges. Like other travellers, I had to contend in particular with two things: cancelled flights and cold temperatures. I share this with you not to lament. Rather, I suggest these experiences can bring to the Gospel proclaimed on this wonderful solemnity a perspective in which its meaning can come to light for us.
The essential message of Epiphany is this: Jesus Christ, born of Mary, is the world’s one and only Saviour. Descended from the Jewish race, he has come as their long-awaited Messiah, yet not only for them. The biblical texts brim over with the joyful proclamation that he has come to save everyone from sin and death, a universal Saviour. We see this in the “wise men from the East”, non-Jews, led by the star to Bethlehem, where they recognize their Lord and King and bow down in worship. Jesus has come from heaven for everyone, to draw all people to himself and lead them to the desired destination of eternal life in heaven. Framing this proclamation within our travel analogy helps us probe this message and bring to light conclusions that, in fact, form the heart of the Christian proclamation.
Let’s consider first the flight cancellations. These never fail to throw passengers, travel agents and airline attendants into a frenzy. Immediately the search begins for alternate routings and perhaps a different airline – anything that will get us to our desired destination. Sometimes, sadly, we are left stranded, unable to leave home or stuck in airports. This experience helps us to draw two key lessons from the Gospel text. Firstly, Epiphany proclaims that God simply does not and will not cancel out on His promises. From of old He had pledged to send the world its Saviour. As people waited over the centuries for God to act, the prophets assured them that God would surely do so, but according to a time schedule He had established. Therefore, at Christmas the Church proclaims that Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh, was born of Mary not only in time but also on time, at the precise moment pre-determined within the mystery of divine providence. God does not cancel on His people; He will never leave us stranded in disappointment and fear. Secondly, to proclaim that Jesus is the world’s one and only Saviour is to say that there is no alternative routing, and, furthermore, no other carrier. In fact, in Jesus Christ, route and carrier are one: he alone is the Way to eternal life; he alone is able to carry us home to the bosom of the Father.
How do we respond to this astounding message? St. Matthew clearly had that very question in mind as he composed the passage. As we ponder the Epiphany narrative, we see that St. Matthew is drawing our attention to people’s reaction to the news of the star and the birth. His point in doing so is to incite within us reflection upon our own. To develop this, I’ll turn now to the second element of the travel analogy, namely, the very cold climactic conditions.
There is a lot that could be said about this, but I will focus upon one element that, to me, is among the most disconcerting: ice forming on the wings of an airplane. At this time of year, passengers get to watch de-icing machines clear away snow and ice from the wings of the plane before takeoff. In fact, the de-icing is occurring in order for the plane to take off. When I am on a plane I try not to dwell at length on that little fact. I do dwell on it here because, as the story of the journey of wise men to the manger unfolds, it reveals a certain de-icing that needs to take place, but in fact doesn’t: a de-icing not of airplane wings but of the human heart.
King Herod heard the news of the birth of a king. His already cold heart went into deep freeze. He remained solidly frozen to the ground of his worldly and self-centered concerns. His heart had become so solidly encased in the ice of self-reference that he could understand the newborn child only as a threat to his authority and power.
Think, too, about the chief priests and scribes, who learned the news of the birth as Herod consulted them. The account does not record any effort made on their part to see for themselves what was unfolding in Bethlehem. They were grounded by the ice of indifference. This is extraordinary. They who knew the prophecies, they who heard that what had been foretold from of old might now be fulfilled, never budged off the tarmac.
All of this raises the very important question of our own response to all that is proclaimed about Jesus Christ throughout the Christmas season. The full acceptance of the truth that he is the Son of God made flesh for our salvation will cause one’s life to soar to unimagined heights of peace, hope and joy. If we are not yet experiencing any degree of lift-off, we might want to ask ourselves: what area of my life needs de-icing? Am I frozen by fear of the change Jesus will ask of me? Does the frost of bitterness grip my heart and freeze out others who seek my forgiveness or whom I must forgive? Has the ice of complacency rendered me indifferent to the abundant new life Jesus holds in store?
The glad tidings of Epiphany position us for takeoff. God is faithful; what God has promised He will do. In fidelity to His pledge, God has sent us Jesus, born of Mary, to be the world’s one and only Saviour. And because Jesus has promised it, we know he remains always with us, especially here in the mystery of the Eucharist, to be our help and strength. So, as we are given today the wondrous gift of communion with our Lord, let us ask him to clear away any “ice” that keeps our hearts grounded, and thus free us to rise to new life in him.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
January 2nd, 2022