Homily at Solemn Pontifical Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord in Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta 8 January 2017
We all have had what is colloquially known as “light bulb moments”. These are moments where we experience a rare insight, a profound enlightenment or a sudden inspiration that can make a difference to the way we think, live and behave. Several years ago, I had to wrestle with a particular moral issue that was burning within me. I struggled to not just to understand it with my head but also to come to terms with it relationally and pastorally. Then one day while reflecting on a certain passage of Scripture, I had that light bulb moment. It was my Damascus moment of sorts that caused me to not only to come to a more mature understanding of a moral issue but also to change my attitude and behaviour accordingly. While those moments of insight might not solve our problems, they can help us in our search for truth, justice and integrity. When we are open to the stirrings of the Spirit from deep within, like Elijah hearing God’s voice in the gentle breeze, we can be led to surprising places.
Today we celebrate the feast of Epiphany which in essence is about the way God reveals himself to us in a way that enlightens, surprises, challenges and even transforms us. In the first reading, Isaiah during the exile prophesies about the renewal of Israel through the image of a restored and renewed Jerusalem. Even as it is lying in ruins, the prophet boldly predicts that the time of darkness, uncertainty and chaos will come to an end. God will shine a radiant light and reveal a wondrous new future filled with joy and abundance. “Their sons and daughters will be tenderly carried home”. It is a sharp contrast to fear and flight in times of war and violence. The prophecy gives hope to the exiles that suffering is part of God’s plan of their renewal and transformation. It was in Babylon ironically that they came to a growing consciousness, an epiphany about what it meant to be God’s people.
The Gospel story also describes a journey to faith that results in the radical transformation of the travellers. The Magi obey the call of the spirit, much like Abraham and Sarah before them, and embark on a journey beyond the security and familiarity of their surroundings. They uproot themselves and become pilgrims in a strange land. Yet as the journey progresses, they learn to discover that the God they were looking for would reveal himself not just beyond the fixed physical, geopolitical boundaries but also beyond the limits of our human preconceptions and prejudices. The infant King of the Jews is not found in a royal house amidst the powerful and the wealthy as they expected. Rather, he would be found in the midst of poverty and squalor wearing rags instead of robes surrounded by shepherds rather than courtiers. It is a total inversion of human convention. It is this inversion that Jesus lived and preached. Epiphany, then, is a kind of divine rupture. God’s surprising or even shocking revelation breaks through cultural, racial, moral and all other layers of human boundaries.
The Gospel also tells us that after having encountered the Christ child, there was a fundamental change in the direction of the lives of the Magi. As Matthew puts it: “They returned home by another way.” The old way of traveling would no longer work. They needed to follow a different path. Here, we can learn another important lesson from them, that is the ability to alter the course of our life’s journeys. It is what happens to those who are searching, and who encounter Christ. It is – whether we realise it or not — about a kind of conversion. It is about finding another way of walking the journey of life. A way that has been transformed by Christ himself.
Epiphany is then about the courage of those who having been enlightened by Christ commit themselves to the journey of conversion, growth even through painful experiences. It is about the courage of finding another way, of abandoning old ways of thinking and acting, of walking the journey that can lead us to wholeness and well-being. Epiphany comes when we are prepared to accept changes that life forces on us; when we abandon our own prejudices and discomforts to learn more and grow in love for those we consider “other.” It comes when we let go our previous certainties and securities, habits and patterns of behaviour that are no longer relevant, meaningful and life-giving.
We need the spiritual light bulb moments to give us inspiration for the journey. But more importantly we need to be challenged in the way the Magi were challenged out of their familiarity and security, their biases and prejudices. We need that divine rupture which comes with a true experience of epiphany in order to discover the God of the margins and marginalised, of the poor and the lowly, of the struggling and the sinful. May we have the courage to walk the journey of faith and to live the radical inversion of human ideals and standards. May we be led to a life full of hope and joy knowing that God’s power has broken into the world through Christ our Lord.
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