We begin a new year... and as we do, the Church invites us to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the feast of Manifestation. The Good News that was quietly proclaimed in a cave on the hillside of Bethlehem is now revealed to the world in the persons of three astrologers - the three kings or wise men from the East.
This feast of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of the Incarnation to the whole universe. It embraces the fuller dimensions of the role of the Word-made-flesh: His coming to bring the nations together in peace, His coming to reveal the Father, His coming to change almost miraculously the quality of life for all people.
Epiphany, then, surrounds the birth of Jesus with signs and symbols of His mission to be the universal Messiah: the star, the wise men and the gifts laid at His feet - frankincense to acknowledge Him as God, myrrh to pay tribute to his humanity, and gold to acclaim him as king.
One simple fact is very clear: the presence of Jesus cannot be contained or hidden. Epiphany celebrates this fact. Just as we are called to sing out for joy with the Christmas angels, so also are we called to be, in our own time, His magi, and His star. We must make Him manifest. We must give witness in our words and in our actions to our faith in Him as Lord and Savior. We must not be "private" about our faith; we must not be ashamed to profess our love and loyalty for Jesus in front of others. We must not be passive in the struggle for peace and justice....
It can be difficult for the Light of Christ to shine through the kind of atmosphere that we are experiencing in the world today; and we might well be tempted to look around as we begin this New Year and ask: "Why bother?" But in the final analysis, we know that we are all responsible for the stewardship of the gifts God has given us.
One of the most fundamental challenges of our faith is that of "taking ownership." The Babe of Bethlehem grew to maturity by taking ownership of His own life and mission. Doing His Father's will was never easy; it made Him different; it made Him unpopular; it kept Him poor; it led Him to preach and teach constantly; it involved Him with the pain and the hunger and the suffering of His brothers and sisters. Ultimately, it led Him to betrayal, rejection and death on a cross.
But He changed the whole story by His Resurrection. That's what gives us hope and courage and generosity as we face a new year. That's what inspires us to take ownership of our lives and our destiny. It is the Risen and Triumphant Christ who shares with us His mission to make all things new. It is His power that makes us believe that we can make things better. And with that power, we can make His Gospel known and bring about a better tomorrow.
In the Liturgical Calendar for this year, the Epiphany is immediately followed by the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (this year celebrated on Monday, January 8). That's quite a jump: from the Babe in the manger to the adult Jesus at the Jordan River. But there is a reason for this. The Epiphany proclaims the Christ and reveals Him to all the nations. That revelation demands a mission, beginning with his Baptism. And that mission continues within and through each of us because of our baptism.
Like the Wise Men of old, this mission sends us on an uncharted journey. The road ahead is bumpy. We have no way of knowing where it will lead. There may be all sorts of surprises ahead, unsuspected discoveries and unwanted setbacks. We cannot know what events of this coming year will shape our lives. We wonder about our health, our wealth, our children, our parents, our schools, our jobs - and we cannot escape concern about the global family, about poverty, crime, war, oppression and disease.
We have a choice: we can be either optimistic or pessimistic. We can be hope-filled or despairing. We can trust in the abiding presence of our God or feel helplessly lost and alone. We can sit along the sidelines, passively and fearfully, or we can accept the challenge of our own baptism and take ownership of the Gospel. Our choice will, of course, fashion the spirit in which we spend each day of the coming year. It will also have an impact on those around us, and, ultimately, on the quality of life in our world.
For those of us who believe in God's gift of His Son Jesus, there is only one choice. We walk in the Light of His love and His truth made manifest. That is what guides us day by day. We are never really abandoned, or helpless, or lost. We cannot allow those around us to walk in that kind of darkness, either.
Each day of this New Year will give us an opportunity to celebrate life, to share love, to enkindle hope. It will provide new occasions for service to others, for compassion and understanding, for listening and learning. Each day will bring a challenge to each of us - to take what we have experienced, what we have been given… and to consciously work to complete His mission: to re-create the face of the earth into a world where all human life is always defended, where the poor and outcast are made welcome, where those held bound by sickness, disease or hatred are set free, and where all can come to know God's all-embracing love.