We are honored to have His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to be with us this weekend as he makes his appeal for his twice hurricane-devastated diocese. He will celebrate one Mass marking the Feast of the Epiphany, and preach at the other weekend Masses. Next weekend, we will answer the needs of his appeal with a generous response.
Christmas-Epiphany ranks 2nd among the three greatest festivals of the Christian year, the 1st being Easter-Divine Mercy, and the 3rd being Pentecost –Trinity. No one knows the time of year when Jesus was actually born. But, since the early 4th Century, the Western Church has commemorated the date of the Nativity in late December, possibly replacing pagan festivals of the time. But over the millennia, the beauty of the Gospel account of Christ’s birth has left a lasting mark on the human soul. For families especially, Christmas can be magic and an intimate joy. It resonates with the renewal of hope that comes with each new infant family member.
Christians, i.e., followers of Jesus Christ – celebrate Christmas not as just another secular holiday, but as the birthday of the Messiah; the birthday – in the words of St. Leo the Great – of life itself.
We live in a special time of joy every Christmas-Epiphany, and it has very little to do with holiday sales. Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us.” Sharing presents with friends and family is a wonderful tradition that springs eagerly from our Christmas celebrations. Originally, gift-giving was on the day of the Epiphany, not December 25th. We shouldn’t let our concern for Christmas gifts – the noise and distraction of mere things – drown out the quiet voice of God’s love-made-flesh in the birth of Jesus. Bethlehem, for each of us individually and the world as a whole, is the beginning of something entirely new and utterly beautiful, if we ask God for the purity of heart to possess it.
The world we know today is not so different from the world of the first Christmas. Violence, greed, indifference, hatred, refugees, the struggle for power and the oppression of the poor – despite our best efforts – are the chronic evils for a fallen humanity. Yet, the reality is this: God loved us enough to send us, through the faith of Mary and Joseph, his only Son. He loved us enough to take on our poverty, our indignities and fears, our hopes, joys, sufferings and failures – and to speak to us as one of us. He became man to show men and women how much God loves them. He was born for that purpose. He lived for that purpose. He died and rose again for that purpose.
Jesus means “God saves” (from the Hebrew, Yeshua). When Jesus later preaches in his public ministry, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” He is only restating the miracle that begins in Bethlehem. Our redeemer is born in a stable. He is born to deliver us from sin and restore us to eternal life. This was the meaning of the birth on that first Christmas. The Epiphany segment celebrates how He was made known to the rest of the world – actually through foreigners (the Magi) that sought Him.
Though we are now closing the Christmas season, it’s never too late to invite the Christ Child into our hearts. Surely this tired, divided and suffering world never needed Him more. So throughout this year, may God grant all of us the gift of welcoming Jesus into our hearts and searching for Him in the hearts of others.
Our traditional blessing of the chalk and incense takes place at the first Mass of the Epiphany. You may find these take-home packets at the manger and, if you so wish, leave a donation there. The incense may be burned in a safe dish in your home today or on another feast day, and the chalk can be used to invoke the intercession of the Magi. The inscription over your doorway(s) is: 20+C+M+B+18, and you may invoke a blessing with the words: May the intercession of the Holy Magi protect our home from all harm during this coming year.