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The Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60: 1-6 + Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-13 + Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6 + Matthew 2: 1-12
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: Sunday, January 2, 2022

The summer after I graduated from college seminary and before I started my graduate studies in theology I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Santa Maria in Colorado.
This camp, funded by the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver,
was for the benefit of inner-city children from Denver.
It was located about 90 minutes southwest of Denver,
nestled in the Rocky Mountains.

The first night the campers arrived at Camp Santa Maria, the other camp counselors
and I would take them on a short hike up into the mountains.
I called it the “Star Walk.”
The campers would see something they had never seen before,
having lived their lives under the bright lights of the big city.
They would see stars for the first time.
Wonder welled up in their hearts, and awe filled their souls
as they pointed at the prickly points of light twinkling in the night sky.
Without fail, there would be a shooting star or two blazing across the sky
that would elicit cries of delight from these novice stargazers.

These kids had entered a whole new world they did not know existed.
That night, on that star walk, they were taken out of their own teeny-tiny worlds
into a much grander universe.
They also got in touch with something great and glorious,
that they were made for something bigger, that they were made by Someone Bigger and made for something more.
They got in touch with their desire for the Creator of the Stars, and His desire for them.

Sadly, not many people see stars anymore, and this is not totally due to light pollution.
Sadly, not many folks even look up to see the stars because they are looking down
all the time, looking inward, all caught up in their own little world.

The modern American dis-ease is not COVID-19, but the dis-ease of self-centeredness, of navel gazing, of being so wrapped up in one’s own small life
that one misses Life itself.
The pandemic has only sharpened, exacerbated this tendency to turn inward.
This inward-turning tendency occurs when we focus solely on taking care of me
and what is mine.
It manifests itself when we only associate with others who are just like us,
our own small group or tribe.

The invitation of Epiphany, of the manifestation of the Son of God as Savior
of the entire world and all its peoples, is to turn outward, to look beyond
our small world into the larger world at the many diverse people God has created.
A world of wonder and delight.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace flowing from the inexhaustible spring
of the Spirit, we move beyond self-centeredness and selfishness to live for others,
to love in grander and more inclusive ways.
We begin to see by the light of the Star of Grace the face of the Christ-child shining forth from those who are of a different race, language, ethnicity, or gender.

The movement continues outward as we move beyond nationalism
and recognize our interconnectedness with all the people scattered across the globe.

This movement of grace, lit by the Star-light of the Spirit of God, moves us beyond
even earth itself, beyond thinking this spinning globe is the center of the universe
to the recognition that it revolves around the sun, as our lives revolve
around the Son of God, who is the center, the source, the reason for our being.

The Star of Faith moves us into the “more” out there and helps us resist the temptation to focus inward, to remain in the small world of the self.

We need other star-seekers to help us follow the signs to the presence of Christ
in the world today.
We need those who follow a star seemingly out of reach to teach us
how to do the same.
All star-seekers experience a “manifestation” of God’s glory, an epiphany,
which changes their life. They all experience an “Ah-Hah” moment,
a radiance so bright that it captures their heart, their soul, their very life.

Sr. Helen Prejean shows us how to follow the Star of Mercy
in order to find the Merciful One.
This star led her to Death Row and to the discovery of a mercy
she didn’t know she possessed.
The mercy belonged to the Creator of the stars, but it was hers to use in ministering
to condemned criminals and to their families, finding Christ there.
This Star of Mercy also opened her eyes to the suffering of the families members
of those who experience violent crimes,
and to find the suffering Christ shining through their lives.

There was another woman who had an Epiphany that would not stop.
She saw God’s face shining forth from the faces of the poor.
This woman of deep faith spent her life not only feeding them, clothing them, and giving them shelter, but also fighting the injustices in the world that kept them poor.
The compassionate ministry that continues in Catholic Worker houses
has turned Dorothy Day into a star that keeps on shining.

Martin Luther King lived his life guided by the Star of Hope
in the face of the evil of racism and prejudice.
This star led him to see Christ present in a people who suffered
from the hateful deeds of others simply because of the color of their skin.
King’s hope was that we could all live together as brothers and sisters,
no matter what the color of our skin, and he warned if we chose not to do so,
that we would perish together as fools.
He followed this star to his death and is the patron saint
of those who find it hard to follow stars.

And then there as was a man of God from San Salvador by the name of Oscar Romero.
He followed the Star of Truth which revealed the lies
perpetuated by the powerful people in El Salvador, lies he brought into the light.
He would not be silent, but became a voice for those who had no voice,
for those being brutally oppressed by those few who held onto power.

But this only happened because Oscar had an epiphany,
recognizing the persecuted Christ in the faces of the oppressed.
He died as he followed the Star of Truth, but his star shines on in the people of Salvador.

To this list of star-seekers you can add an Oklahoma farm boy
who was murdered and martyred in Guatemala, the country next door to El Salvador,
one year after Oscar Romero suffered the same fate, because he, too, chose to follow
the Star of Truth and stand with a people oppressed.

You can also add to this list of star seekers a teenage girl from Sweden
who has traveled the world challenging us adults to live simply and take better care
of our planet so that the next generations can simply live on this earth.
She has endured ridicule from powerful leaders but that has not deterred her in her mission to protect our common home, this earth, which is God’s gift to us to care for.

When we look up and outward, we notice many stars shining in the seeming darkness
of this world.
They all light the way to the source of light and love—Christ himself.

Christ Jesus wants nothing less than the gift of our life laid down at his feet.
Can we give ourselves to Him totally and fully?

Can we allow the Light of the World to shine through us, and in doing so,
add our names to the list of the Star-seekers?

Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi