For All Mankind
In this beautiful homily for The Epiphany of the Lord, Year C, Father Hanly looks at the consequences of the revelation that the Child of Bethlehem is the Son of God and the Saviour of the whole world.
Readings for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year C
- First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
- Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
- Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
I thought, because we’re going to sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and my favourite always gets left behind, I decided that I would read to you the second most happy of all the lovely songs, “The First Noel.” You all know “The First Noel.” I’m not going to sing it – don’t be afraid. (Congregation laughs.)
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!
The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Today, of course, is the Feast of the Epiphany.
We used to go to our uncle, who was not our uncle. We used to go to his house. He was a great friend of my father and he’d have an extra gift on the Feast of the Epiphany.
So I will always remember the Feast of the Epiphany, even more than Christmas, because he would never let us down and he would give gifts to us all, me and my sisters.
I suppose today the very first thing that we should think of on this day of the Epiphany, this very special day of the Epiphany, is the Epiphany itself.
The Feast of the Epiphany outdates the Feast of Christmas by at least, I think, about three or four hundred years. And you all wonder how come. Because the Feast of the Epiphany had come first and only later did the Feast of Christmas come. Of course, today, the Feast of Christmas outdoes the Feast of the Epiphany.
But the reason being was that the Epiphany was more special than just the birth of the Child. The Epiphany was the revelation, the revealing that the Child of Bethlehem, Mary’s child, is the Son of God and Saviour of the whole world.
And, of course, this meant that Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem, in the city of Bethlehem, in the town in the Jewish area of the world, while it is very, very important, the move towards understanding the little Saviour of the world, understanding him as everybody’s Saviour, was very important, because without that there wouldn’t be an understanding that the little boy from Bethlehem will unite the whole world one day.
So then what brings the world together in harmony and in love is really the little Jewish boy, Mary’s son, who also happens to be the Son of God.
And it is this, that our future is entwined, because someday all the nations of the world will follow the Magi and follow the star and come to know and to understand the child of Bethlehem is God Himself calling His people, not just one tribe or one nation, but all men and women throughout the whole world who have been created from the beginning of time until the end of time, they will all be called the Children of the Child, the Children of God.
And then there will be no, as St Paul reminds us, no more differences between Jew and Gentile, between races and colours, and different ways of understanding and different languages and speaking, for the Child of Bethlehem has already united all of us into one family.
What does all this mean?
Well, it makes us all brothers and sisters.
I don’t know how many nationalities and how many languages and how many differences we would have just in this small room, but this little child born in Bethlehem, a hopeless little place, on a terrible winter’s night, this little child has made us one family.
And this is how we’re supposed to treat each other. There should be no strangers in this room. They should all be acknowledged as cousins and uncles and aunts and — relatives we call them. This is how we are to treat each other and to treat all the people of the world.
Why? Because the little Child made us one, one family.
And so this is why our wars are so terrible. Because we’re killing our brothers and sisters. We’re not killing strangers. There is no such thing as a stranger in the house of God.
As you know, you can open that door and anybody can come in and anybody can kneel and anybody can pray and anybody can receive the love and affection, hopefully, of all the others.
It is something that we must work towards. There are no strangers among people. We are either good friends or we’re not friends at all.
The feast day also tells us that we know that we have found the child of Mary, we have found the Messiah. The Messiah is the Hebrew word for the Holy One of God, the Messiah who is the Expected One of God, and he is the Prince of Peace.
And then where will this child – we’ll bring it right up to date – when the child grows up, where will this child, where will we find him? And this is important since we are all one family.
Jesus said, “If you are looking for me, you will find me in many places, but especially among the lonely and the lost, the poor, the needy.
“You will find me among those who know their need for God and know their need for the love of each other.
“You will find me among the people who live on the edges of darkness and on the edges of sorrow and despair.
“And that is where you are to find me.”
Jesus tells us, “You will find me there. And that is where you, too, are to join me. For I am with these people to serve them. And as I serve them, I serve you. And as I serve you, you are to serve them.”
The real meaning of the Epiphany is that God has made Himself manifest. He has taken on flesh, he has risen from the pain and death on the cross, he has been born to a new life and he said to his apostles, “Now, I am really with you. I am one of you. And I am with you all days. I am one with you.
“And the way you treat each other is the way you also treat me. And so you must learn to love each other and care for each other as members of the same family.
“And you will find me among your own family with your brothers and with your sisters. And you are to take care, not only of them, but you must take care of me as well.”
This is really a wonderful day, because the Epiphany is something so far beyond our understanding and yet so close to us that the only way to express it is God’s hunger to be one with us, sending His Son to become man and living out with us all of the minutiae of our ordinary lives.
Among happy and sad, sick and well, and all the rest of them, shines the light of Jesus, our Messiah King. And that is what we celebrate today.
Now as we close the Christmas season, because today is just about the close of the season, I have saved one prayer for the end. This prayer is to remind us of our future.
Father in heaven, hear our prayer.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.*
We ask this through the Christ Child, our Lord and Redeemer, whom you have sent and who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
*poem by Howard Thurman