I wish you all a Happy New Year! May the year 2019 bring you and your family many blessings and much happiness. The year 2018 had many great blessings. We fixed our leaking roof. The church is now beautiful inside and out, especially after we repaired the leaks in the roof and the damage caused by the leaks. I thank God and you, our wonderful parish community, for coming together and making these repairs possible. God willing, I don’t foresee any construction work needing to be done in the New Year. This will give us time to focus on some of the existing ministries, such as Connection to Christ, the youth ministry, and others. We will be launching a new program in our parish, called “Alpha,” in 2019. Alpha is a faith-based program, which invites people to grow in faith, especially people who are struggling with their faith. This is a program for everyone, including me as a priest. Asking questions is good, and Alpha will provide opportunities and will enable people to learn and to grow in their faith. I am looking forward to implementing this program in our parish, which we will launch the second week of Easter. Meanwhile, a group of us, including our staff members, will be praying and discerning about this program. Please keep this ministry and its facilitators in your prayers.
As you know, every year brings blessings and joy, as well as challenges and suffering. The readings today remind us that God is in our midst, and that it is God Who guides our lives. It is sometimes hard to understand God’s plan; even Mary had her doubts when the angel Gabriel communicated God’s message to her. Simeon and Anna predicted the future of the child Jesus when the Magi visited and paid Him homage. What did Mary do? She pondered everything in her heart; that is, she surrendered everything to God. This is what we are reminded to do as we begin the New Year and throughout all of the year 2019.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The Greek word “epiphany” means “appearance” or “manifestation.” The multiple revelations of God in Jesus are celebrated in the Feast of the Epiphany. First, the angels revealed Jesus to the shepherds. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ first appearance to the Gentiles, represented by the discovery of Jesus by the Magi, the Wise Men. In the Eastern Church, the Feast commemorates the Baptism of Christ, in which the Father and the Holy Spirit gave combined testimony to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus revealed Himself as the promised Messiah. At the wedding in Cana, He revealed His Divinity by transforming water into wine.
In today’s first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet’s oracle of the adoration of the Magi was fulfilled when the kings from the East encountered the Newborn King, Jesus. Isaiah foretold that the nations of the world would follow a brilliant light to the Holy City, bringing gifts of gold and incense in homage to the God of Israel who would be a light to all nations and to people who had walked in darkness. Here, the prophet, by consoling the people in exile, speaks of the restoration of the New Jerusalem from which the glory of Yahweh becomes visible even to the pagan nations. God’s Chosen People will no longer be in darkness. Thus, the prophet in this passage celebrates the Divine Light emanating from Jerusalem and foresees all the nations acknowledging that Light, enjoying that Light, and walking in that Light.
In the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians expresses God’s plan of salvation, that everyone is included in this plan. Paul says: “. . . through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Hence, Paul in the second reading reveals the unfolding of the mystery of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. He explains that this plan includes both Jews, Gentiles and everyone, all God’s people. Jesus made known this Divine Plan by extending an invitation to everyone in His Church. Thus, the Jews and the Gentiles have become “coheirs, members of the same Body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
The Gospel reading reminds us that if God permitted the Magi—foreigners and pagans—to encounter and give Jesus the proper respect as the King of Jews, we should know that there is nothing in our sinful lives that would keep God from bringing us to Jesus. This principle shows us that we are all included in the divine plan of salvation. It is left to us to understand and to take the lead, like the Magi, to meet Jesus. We see that there were three groups of people involved in the Epiphany of Christ’s birth who had the opportunity of encountering and paying respect to the Newborn King. The first group, headed by King Herod the Great, tried to eliminate Him because he pursued Him as an obstacle to his power. The second group, the priests and scribes, ignored Him because they did not feel the need for God. The third group, represented by the shepherds and the Magi, came to adore Him; they realized their emptiness and the need for God in their lives. The Gospel teaches us how Christ enriches those who come to Him with open hearts. Because the Magi were honest and eager to meet and pay homage to the newborn King, Jesus, God allowed them to see wondrous things; He revealed His Son to them.
Three groups of people, all who had the same opportunity; two groups did not care to use it, but the third group did. The question we need to ask ourselves is: In which group do we belong? Does your heart burn with desire to encounter Jesus, especially in the Holy Eucharist, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? We need to make sure that we belong in the third group and worship Jesus at Mass, every day if we can, with the gold of our love, the myrrh of our humility and the frankincense of our adoration. Let us offer God our very selves, promising Him that we will use His blessings, as good stewards, to do good and refrain from harming people. Let me conclude with a beautiful English Christmas carol written by Christina Rosetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The carol sums up, in its last stanza, the nature of giving gifts to the Christ Child: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him? Give my heart!” Yes, in the New Year 2019, the best gift for God is our heart, a sincere heart that loves Him and longs for Him like the Magi.