Epiphany: New Light and Precious Gifts-Homiletic Reflections of Two RC Women Priests Jan 4,2015
We are pleased to post two homilies for Epiphany. With great thanks to Rev. Dr. Beverly Bingle, Roman Catholic woman Priest from Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Toledo ,Ohio whose wisdom here is a gift to us for this special feast. My homily from the Good Shepherd Community in Fort Myers, Florida follows Rev. Bev’s.
Here is Rev. Bev’s Homily:
The word epiphany comes from the Greek for
a sudden realization of a striking new understanding.
Isaiah writes of an epiphany.
In the midst of darkness
as the Jews return from the Babylonian Exile
to find their Jerusalem home in ruins,
Isaiah has a vision of the glory of God’s presence
shining on the people once again.
The land will be holy again,
and all the peoples, not just the Jews,
will live in peace and see God’s glory.
For the people living 500 years before Christ,
it’s a new understanding
of the nature of God and the meaning of life.
Paul has an epiphany, too, which he explains to the Ephesians.
It’s not just the Jews who receive the divine word,
but the Gentiles, who are co-heirs with the Jews,
co-partners in the promise.
All are members of the same body.
For Paul and the people of 60 AD,
it’s an epiphany,
a new understanding of God and the meaning of life.
After the Great Revolt—the first of three Jewish-Roman wars—
the Jews who follow the Way of Jesus of Nazareth
also come to a new understanding of God
because of their experience of him
in the midst of death and destruction.
Because they are Jews,
they explain their new understanding—their epiphany—
with images familiar to them.
Because they are Christians,
they hold on to their hope in Jesus’s Way
of peace based on justice.
So they use the image of light and darkness, just as Isaiah did.
The Magi—Persian priests or astrologers—
coming to see the newborn baby in the stable,
tell Herod they have seen the light of his star rising.
The image occurs again later in the Matthew’s Gospel.
In Chapter 4 Matthew quotes Isaiah 8:
“the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
After that has Jesus tell his disciples, “I am the light of the world.”
Other images in Matthew’s infancy narrative
serve the same purpose.
For example, Herod’s chief priests and scribes tell him
that the Messiah will be a ruler who will shepherd the people,
prefiguring the adult Jesus,
the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep.
Those early followers of Jesus
came to a new understanding of God
and the meaning of their lives,
and they expressed that epiphany
in images that both built on their Jewish tradition
and expanded its reach to the whole world.
Today’s epiphany story is not just ancient history.
We each have experienced epiphanies in our lives—
new understanding, growth in spirituality,
visions of hope for better times.
The image of light in the darkness is still fresh.
We’ve seen light brought to others.
Last Tuesday the Italian Coast Guard
brought light to the darkness
when they rescued 970 Syrian and Kurdish refugees.
Closer to home, the Tiffin Franciscians’ Project Hope
brings light to over a hundred immigrants every year.
Scores of Toledoans bring light through anti-racism dialogues,
and hundreds bring light by their participation
in the Compassionate Community project.
As disciples of Jesus,
each of us is called to bring light to the world.
Anne and Tom are doing that.
They worked to bring journalist Alison Weir to Toledo
to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Liz is bringing light to youngsters
in the special needs classes she teaches at TPS.
Sydney is bringing light to Carol
when she visits her with communion.
And all of us are bringing light to Toledo—
and the whole future world—
with our tree-hugging plans
that we’ve decided to call “The Tree Toledo Project.”
Whenever we welcome a stranger, or diaper a baby,
or volunteer at Assumption Outreach,
or listen to another human being with love in our hearts,
we bring light to the world.
Isaiah had a vision of Jerusalem being holy,
and holy for all, not just the Jews.
We too have a vision—
of the world being holy, a place of light and peace;
of an inclusive church;
of safe neighborhoods and clean water and food and freedom;
of equality and justice for all peoples.
In each of the ways we find to love our neighbors,
especially the poor and oppressed,
we are making our world holy.
We are bringing light to the world.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
at 3535 Executive Parkway (Unity of Toledo)
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
From Rev. Judy:
Tomorrow is the twelfth day of Christmas, when the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated- when the wise seekers from the East found the Christ-child as they followed a brilliant star. In Latin America, Puerto Rico, and many other cultures this day is celebrated as “Three Kings Day” “El Dia de los Tres Reyes” when gifts are given and holy processions wind through the streets. In our church we serve people of many countries and cultures. When we celebrate this day our “kings”, our wise seekers, are girls and boys, women and men, young and old. Though the seekers probably were not royalty, we honor the tradition and give crowns to all of our children and some of our adults, and involve them in bringing up the offering and the Gifts as well as the specific gifts of gold ,frankincense and myrrh.
Epiphany means a manifestation, a revelation or a striking appearance that brings with it a realization, an understanding of larger essence or meaning. We use the word now when we have an “aha moment” or discover something important. Still, the discovery of the Christ is for each of us the most important moment in our lives. The poor and marginalized shepherds found him as they did their usual hard and cold work of tending the sheep out in the fields,again guided by a great light. And so, in the wonderful story of Christmas we have the poor and the unlearned and the well off and the learned all en-lightened, all following the light to Christ-seeing the light. And the light shines through the darkness of ignorance and greed,prejudice and injustice,violence and hate revealing the glory of God-that is, who God is. Mary, a young girl who may have been a Temple servant, is chosen as theotokos -God-bearer. She announces immediately that now “the poor will go away filled”- God’s justice and deliverance, especially for the poor and outcast of this world is coming. Joseph who understandably had his doubts also sees the light and Mary and Jesus are loved and protected.
Matthew shows the early church of Jewish Christians that Jesus fulfills prophecy, brings the light to all and people of all nations will indeed build the kingdom (kin-dom) of God. In the Liturgy of the word the First Reading from Isaiah 60:1-6 initially was a challenge to Israel to rise and shine and bring the light of God into the darkness of hard times in and after exile so that peoples of all nations will be attracted to the light. Indeed the text says that it will be people of other nations that will build the new Jerusalem. For Christians, Jesus, the Christ, is that light and people of all nations are building God’s reign of love and justice on earth. Psalm 72 says”O God, every nation on earth will adore you” and the poor will be rescued and saved. The Epistle (Ephesians 3: 2-6) is another epiphany: the Gentiles are now also heirs to the promise-included in the reign of God now and forever. And this is a key point of this Feast of Epiphany: people of all nations seek and find the Light, the Christ-child,pointing the way ,illuminating the way to God. The reign of God is inclusive of all. The darkness of human ways may threaten this Holy Babe but he will live and teach and die and rise, dark designs and death will not get him, not in the beginning , not in the end.
Another key to understanding the visit of the magi, the wise seekers perhaps priests of another religion, perhaps astrologers, that some later thought to be kings or royalty is understanding the meanings in the gifts they gave. When a gift is well given it is suited to the receiver. The tons of gifts returned after Christmas say that it is not easy to give good gifts, gifts that somehow match or reveal the receiver. The gifts of the wise seekers were expensive, probably priceless in their time with the aromatic resins being of even greater value than the gold, but the cost of a gift has little to do with whether it is a good gift. As I noted in my Christmas reflections one of our teens gave us a gift of two little ceramic snowmen marked “Faith” and “Peace” that symbolized for her the faith and the peace that the Pastor gave to the church. Her Mom told us that she asked for a ride to the Dollar Store where she found these treasures. But the real treasure was that her notes with each one showed that she understood who we are, or at least what we are trying to be and to teach. She “got it”. What a great gift! Now, in the same way, the wise seekers from another faraway land not even friendly to Israel, “got it” they understood that the baby in the manger was divine and human, a king, a priest/prophet and a healer. The gold was for a king-and it probably came in handy for a carpenter’s family. The frankincense and myrrh were used for healing then and now. Their aromas, balms and oils are stress reducers and medicinal for everything from cancers to skin and joint diseases,from wound care to pain medicine. Indeed Jesus healed both body and soul of all who came to him for wholeness. These resins were also used in religious ritual as an offering to God and to invoke God’s spirit upon people, to help connect us to the Spirit, to connect heaven and earth, divine and human, and even to accompany a dead person on his or her journey back to God. These gifts suited Jesus in every way.
And so we wonder about our gifts to one another and to Jesus this Christmas. Are the gifts we give gifts of ourselves, gifts of great worth to our God and to our neighbors in building the kingdom of peace, justice and love. Are we healing to one another? Do we offer our selves as bridges to the sacred, or do we keep the best for ourselves? When Pastor Judy B and I worked with a religious Sister in Guyana, South America, on our visits there we spent some nights in a shelter for women and children in an interior community where we worked with the women and girls present. Sister asked on of the abused young women to “sing her song for us”. This thirteen year old sang “A Bridge Over Troubled Water” so beautifully we were totally moved by it. When asked, she explained that Sister had taught her that song and Sister and this place was like a bridge over troubled water for her and the others there. Indeed, that was so. I prayed that we may always be that bridge for one another. For indeed that too is a bridge to the sacred. Do we love only own people-or do we embrace all people as God’s people? Are we imitating Christ in serving one another and in justice and inclusion? Let us pray that this new year may bring us closer in our own epiphany, in understanding who is this Jesus, born in a manger that we follow, and may we have the courage to live love and justice. Amen.
Rev. Dr.. Judy Lee, Co-Pastor Good shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community , Fort Myers, Florida