Posts Tagged ‘Light’

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany C 2016 (Jan 3)

December 26, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany C 2016 (Jan 3)

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, not a word that occurs often in our own daily lives – unless you happen to be a teacher of James Joyce and use the word in a literary sense. The word itself means “to manifest” or “to reveal”, and what is manifested on this remembrance is that Jesus was made known to be the light of the world, the one who would save mankind, the one who would radiate God’s glory.

For this reason, the imagery of the day is all about light. Isaiah, the prophet, foretells a day when the whole world will know of the glory of God, and will come to worship the one true God. “Arise, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” He foretells of a future when the world seems dark with sin and depression, that the Lord will suddenly appear in light and all nations will work together and come to the Lord. Young and old will come from all across the land bringing gifts of thanks and proclaiming praise for God. A beautiful utopian vision of the last days of the old covenant.

The psalm picks up this beautiful scenario and talks about every nation on earth adoring God through his Son and Savior. This Son, the King,  will judge people with righteousness and give justice tot he poor of the world, and he will not cease until peace abounds. The Psalmist then picks up on the vision of Isaiah and tells him of Kings from the ends of the known earth bringing gifts and tributes to god’s Son. And what is it about this great King? Is he a conqueror? Is he a mighty warrior and military leader? No, what the psalmist picks out as his greatest qualities are that he helps the poor and needy and the week and makes sure that their needs are fulfilled and their lives are saved. What a beautiful portrait of Jesus centuries before his coming.

In the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, Paul extends the previous concept of a Jewish Savior to one that saves all mankind. He says, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind as it has now been revealed to his holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit:” And what is it that has been made known by the Spirit? Paul says it is that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and share in the promise in Christ Jesus…”

That is the manifestation we celebrate today, then. That all nations see the light, and that light is the saving grace of Jesus.

Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions the wise men and doesn’t really say that there were three of them. I guess because there are three gifts mentioned, we presume that there were three of them. We also don’t know that they are kings. Nowhere is that mentioned int he Gospels, though tradition has it that they were.

Matthew’s story accomplishes a number of things, however. First of all, because of the light of the new star, the birth of a Savior is made manifest to people across the known land. The wise men seem to have come from different locations but of course, the star could be seen from everywhere on earth. In the Gospel’s story line, the wise men also add to the plot because they stop at the King’s palace as would any foreigner requesting permission to cross a foreign land, and Herod is told by his own people of the prophecy of Isaiah and the coming of a Messiah who would take the throne – at least, that was how they interpreted it. This will lead to a number of bad things happening – though Herod doesn’t indicate that to the wise men. He sends them out to find the child and report back to him so he might know where the child was located.

The wise men head out and somehow find the location of the birth though the child would probably be quite a bit older now since they had come from so great a distance. The child wasn’t in a stable, but in a house now. The gifts they brought could be Matthew’s attempt to bring Isaiah’s prophecy into his story since two of the gifts were what Isaiah foretold – gold and frankincense. One commentator mentioned that the gold might not have been actual gold, but the spice turmeric, which is golden in color. Such gifts of spices and oils would have been medicinal and helpful to a family with a young child.

So the Gentile wise men represent the branching out of God’s chosen people to the whole world. This would no longer just be for the Jewish chosen people, but God’s saving grace would be for all men and women, just as we read the angels proclaiming on Christmas morn. After having a dream or vision that Herod was up to no good, the wis men did not go back to Herod as they were asked but headed off for their own countries.

So what can we draw from these experiences today? Counties have been in turmoil lately because of the refugee immigrations from Syria and elsewhere. Darkness has once again visited our land. I think we need to get our minds around the fact that there is one God for everyone and He is a God for all peoples. Perhaps he manifests differently for different people. Who are we to say we know the mind of God of the ways of God. Surely we know we have been wrong many times before. Instead of criticism and fear, we need to do our best to accept all people as they are, to love them, to help them, to care for them, and thus show that we are really Christian by our love. I know that in a complex world this seems so simplistic and that our fears get in the way of really seeking to get to know and understand others. But if Jesus is really the Savior of all mankind, we need to be ready to do things that help him do his job, since we are his hands and his feet on earth today. Just something to think about as we try to open all the doors and let this great light shine in for all. And this is the Good News the Epiphany brings today.

 

Ronald Stephens 

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Two Homilies for Christmas 2015 (Midnight and During Day)

December 21, 2014

1. Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (At night) 2014-15

“The Angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” I read somewhere that the phrase “Do not be afraid” occurs around over 100 times in the Bible. There is a lot of fearfulness going round, and you might think it strange that I would choose the theme of fear to talk about this evening. But I think it is a really important concept with regard to Christmas.

Ancient people, more so than today, were afraid of the dark. Today we protect ourselves from the dark and so we may not be quite as fearful, but darkness was always something to be frightened about throughout history.

So when Isaiah calls us a people of darkness in the first reading, one of the images that connotes is that we are a fearful people. And though now we have night lights to protect us from the dark, we are today still a very fearful people. Our world has become very complex in its global boundaries. We find ourselves being drawn in by the exaggerations and fear mongering of the media, for example. Ebola was one such issue this year.

And if we don’t worry about dying from some horrible disease or catching it when we travel, we may worry about the state of the economy, the loss of our jobs, the fear of a penniless retirement, constant anxiety about our health and the high cost of maintaining it. God knows there are so many things to be fearful of today.

The world was smaller for Mary and Joseph, yet they had their worries in the Gospel stories: what would Joseph do when he discovered Mary was pregnant, how would they get all the way to Bethlehem to be registered, and where would they stay, what if she delivered the baby wile they traveled, and even after tonight’s section, would the child be murdered by Herod, how could they leave everything and flee into Egypt?

Fear can occupy our minds and the media preys on that. But what message are we constantly hearing from God’s word? “Do not be afraid”. “Do not be afraid!”

Listen again to some of the beautiful reminders of this in Scripture:

In Genesis we hear: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)

Moses answered the people in Exodus: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance…” (Exodus 14:13)

Again in Deuteronomy we are told: “Do not be afraid; for the Lord God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31.6)

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, in the Book of Joshua: “Do not be afraid of them. I have given them into your hand.” (Joshua 10:18)

And in Chronicles we are admonished: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28.20)

The Psalms use it many times. “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps 23)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom should I fear? (Psalm 27.1)

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. (Psalm 118.6)

Especially in the Prophets like Isaiah we hear: “So do not fear, for I am with you.” Isaiah (41:10)

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you (Isaiah 41:13)

Moving into the New Testament Paul tells us: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear… (Romans 8:15)

And Peter says: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:14)

And finally John summarizes: “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1 John 4:18

I could go on and on, and still haven’t gotten to the many times in the Gospels that Jesus himself tells us not to be afraid and offers us his peace.

So, all through Bible history, this recurring theme has been one of casting aside our fears because we walk with God, and that is why on this Christmas Eve we celebrate the actuality of the promise and the request made of us by our God: Do not be afraid.

Why? Why do we no longer need to be afraid? Because to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. God has provided because he is now incarnate, God is with us in the person of Jesus. This little child, this wholly dependent person, this God who has chosen to become one of us because he loves us. And one of the purposes of this is to take away our fear.

And that is one reason that Christmas is for me such a joyous season. If we recognize the immensity of the incarnation, of God becoming a human, we can cast aside our fears, and trust that a ‘history’ of promises has been fulfilled, that Christ is Emmanuel – God with us – and we no longer need to be fearful of anything.

Whenever you look at the image of the Christ child this week, think about how giving yourself up to trust in God’s Son can free s from the many fears that surround us today, and to help us live as Paul has said to Titus today: self-controlled, upright and godly… a people who are zealous for good deeds. If we can do that, we will have no fear for we will know that our reward will continue in the world to come.

A blessed Christmas to all of you, and help spread the Good News, not to be afraid.

2.

Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (During the Day) 2014-15

There are four Masses composed for Christmas Day, which really shows how important this feast is to the Church. The first three, the Vigil, Midnight Mass and Mass at Dawn all use the Nativity story that we are so familiar with regarding the birth of Christ. The fourth, the one we are celebrating during the day today, does not tell that story.  Instead, it draws from the Gospel of St. John, written a decade or so after the other three Gospels, and which takes for granted the birth narrative. What this Gospel does, is raises the story of Christ’s birth to the level of symbol and archetype, and looks at the theological meaning behind the Incarnation, the becoming human, of Jesus.

It is the beginning of his Gospel and is exceptionally poetic in its language. In this prologue John sets out to establish the natural and supernatural, the human and the divine origin of Jesus.

John symbolically says that Jesus is the Word of God. If you remember, the very opening of Genesis in the Bible starts the same way with the words “In the beginning…” and the first thing God does is “says” something. Jesus is then equated with that act of saying, that “word”. He is God, he has always existed with God – Jesus existed before God created, and he was involved in the creation.

It was through the Word, Jesus, that life came to be, including human life. Then immediately, John moves into one of the great themes of his Gospel, the theme of light. In Jesus “was life and the life was the light of the human race .The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So now what John has done is establish the divine origin of Jesus and so, he moves into the human origin of Jesus. But again, he does not tell a story as do Matthew and Luke, but he talks about Jesus coming into the world as light, a theme which was often in Isaiah when Isaiah talked about a Messiah.

John treats John the Baptist very quickly, only saying that his purpose was to let people know that the light was soon coming. And this light comes into the world as a human being: “and the Word became flesh and lived among us”. God becomes human in order to enlighten the world. Before Jesus they only had the law, but now, John says, with the light they will be able to see that they also have grace and truth, and the way we come to know God, because no one has ever seen God, he says, is to see Jesus – God made visible.

Paul in the letter to the Hebrews says the same theological teaching even before John did: Jesus “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word”. So the Incarnation for both Paul and John is a cosmic event, an event like no other. That is why for them the celebration of Christ’s birth would be so important a feast.

I was never really very good at science but I thought to look up in a lighting book I had, what were the physical qualities of light according to Physics. There were five listed: Intensity, Form, Color, Direction and Movement.

If ‘intensity’ refers to the strength of a light source, we can see that this metaphor in John says that the strength of Jesus’ light is very great for it shines over the whole universe. Isaiah today and our Psalm response says: all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. It is that intensity of light which allows for all people to see and recognize Jesus.

The second quality of light was ‘form’ which allows us to see things in depth and in dimension because it has variances in shades. It is why the whole world can see Jesus but don’t all accept him. They didn’t allow themselves to see his form clearly but allowed interference and shadow, so that John can say: yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.

The third quality is “color”, and light is made up of all the colors, just as Jesus is everything to all people. We used to speak years ago of “glorious” Technicolor. This is the “glory” of which John and Paul speak: “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only begotten son…”

The fourth quality is ‘direction’, so for example, if you walk around a candle, it sheds light in all directions. John is very clear in terms of direction that Jesus was “the true light, which enlightens everyone.”

And finally, light has ‘movement’ which means it can change. Perhaps it is that metaphoric quality of light which allowed God to change – to become a human child, helpless and insignificant. For John, this becomes the fact that no-one has ever seen God, but the reflection of this child will make known the heart of God the Father.

So it is significant that this fourth Mass of Christmas raises the birth event to new theological heights and puts a perspective on it that has made this prologue to John’s Gospel one of the most stirring and beautiful documents in the Bible.  It may not have the sentimentality and story line of the other two Evangelists, but it can make us better understand why Jesus is the true light and why his coming into the world today is such an important event and always be.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas celebration and hope that the light of Christ can enlighten your hearts and your homes today. And this is the very Good News of the Incarnation that or Gospel writer gives us today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]