The Epiphany of the Lord – January 5, 2020
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
When we come to the church on Sundays, on Holy Days, to celebrate the mass, we don’t come to remember history and stories. You can do that at your house. You don’t need to be here for that. Today we celebrate Epiphany, the coming of the three wise men. But we don’t celebrate it because I need to remind you that three wise men brought Jesus gifts. Again, you could do that at your house. You don’t need to be here for that.
When we come to the church on Sundays, on Holy Days, to celebrate the mass, we are not here because we’re supposed to pray once a week, or because it is a sin to miss mass, or because it is required for confirmation. No.
When we come, when the Church asks us to come on Sundays and Holy Days, when the Church begs us to come on Sundays and Holy Days—She makes us come to mass because we are part of a Sacred Mystery. Each and every one of us, all of us who are baptized, each one of us is part of a Sacred Mystery. Baptism isn’t a nice ceremony with a party afterwards (that the godparents have to pay for), no! Baptism isn’t a naming ceremony or something superstitious. In Baptism, we are incorporated into the body of Christ, we are incorporated, made part of His very body. A few weeks ago we celebrated Christmas, we celebrated God being born as a human, God taking on a human body, our humanity. And in Baptism, we share in that same divinized humanity of Jesus Christ. This is a Sacred Mystery! This is not something casual.
At the beginning of mass, every single mass, the priest says, “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” The Sacred Mysteries. Have you ever thought about that phrase? What it means? Have you every stopped to think that that is a reason we are at mass. Again, we’re not here to tell stories, we’re not here because we should pray—you can do that at your house, any time, any day. But on Sundays and on specific Holy Days, the Church calls us together to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries.
What is a “mystery”? Something we can’t explain? Something very hard for humans to understand or discover? No. A mystery is an encounter with something transcendent. And yeah, there is a certain kind of incomprehension—an instance of being decentered, discombobulated, out of control. It is something that is overwhelming, that is so full of meaning that we can’t wrap our minds around it, we can’t control it, we can’t predict it. A mystery is “a concrete something that, when you bump into it, puts you in contact with a Divine reality” (Driscoll). You bump into it, you are part of it, it is happening—and somehow you are brought into contact with God. Think of the Eucharist: a concrete something (bread) that when you bump into it (when you eat it) you are put in contact with a Divine reality (Jesus Christ). Think of Confirmation: a concrete something that when you bump into it (when the oil is placed on your forehead) you are put in contact with a divine reality (you are filled with the Holy Spirit).
The mystery we live as Christians is not something you can do on your own! Remember that story from the Gospels of the Rich Young Man? He comes up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do? What are all of the things I have to do? I follow all of the rules, but what else must I do?” Remember, we don’t control mysteries! What does Jesus tell him? “Good job. You follow the rules. But you’re missing one thing, the most important thing. Follow me.” Follow. Me. The Christian faith isn’t something we do, we can’t just do it on our own. We have to follow, we have to “bump into” something concrete, we cannot be in control, we have to follow, listen to another, place our lives into someone else’s hands. I mean, it is no fun following all of the rules to ride a roller coaster, standing in line, all of it…but then not riding it. You want to ride! You want to plunge in! You ride all the way to the top, then the drop! We can follow rules, tell stories, say prayers, all of it, on our own. But why would you do that but not actually put yourself in contact with the mystery itself? Why wouldn’t you plunge in? Well, because you’re not into roller coasters. You have other concrete things to do, other events, parties, sleeping—other things to do. Mass? That’s just another thing.
But here’s the thing: at mass we don’t just celebrate mysteries. We celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. And “sacred” is the important word.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah has a vision of heaven. And there the angels are singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Angels, perfect beings, they never sinned—angels are covering themselves with their wings in his presence. God is so holy, so sacred that not even angels dare to look at him (c.f., Isa. 6:2). In the book of Exodus, Moses hears the voice of God tell him, “No one can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). God is so holy, so sacred, that even looking at him, seeing him would kill you. In the second book of Chronicles, we hear that when they dedicated the Temple fire came down from heaven and the Temple is filled with the glory of God—so much so that not even the priests could enter the Temple because of the glory of God was so powerful. God is so holy, so sacred that just this little fraction of his glory in the Temple, and the people fall prostrate and can only say, “For he is good. His mercy endures forever” (c.f., 2 Chron. 7:1-4). Think about this: the sun (a star) is ninety-three million miles away; you can’t stare at it for too long or you will go blind; and you definitely can’t touch it, can’t even get one million miles away from it before you would die. The Magi see a star, and they see the Sacred Mystery this star points to, “and they prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt 2:11). A baby, something as normal as a baby, but these kings fall down in prostration.
This is the sacredness of God. And yet, we are part of this same Sacred Mystery! How is it possible that we are currently attached to the One who shines brighter than the sun, and are still alive? How is it possible that we are members of His body? God Himself is allowing us to be a part of His body? Unbelievable! But this is what we call the Church. Us, the members of the Body of Christ, are members of that Sacred Mystery.
The Epiphany, the feast we celebrate today, calls us back to this fact! The first reading says, “Rise up in splendor…! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.…upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory” (Isa 60:1-2). The very light and glory of God shine on us, and we are not killed by it! Rather, we are given new life. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that we “are coheirs, members of the same body” of Christ (Eph 3:6). Again, we are made part of this Sacred Mystery! And this is all made even more awesome in the story of the three wise men, this account of a simple yet striking event in which they suddenly realized, suddenly had an insight about what was really going on. They “saw his star at its rising.…They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Mt 2). The Sacred Mystery is a baby, and yet this mystery is so sacred that they fall down in prostration.
How can we be so casual about this?
How do we show up as if we’re forced to be here?
Paul talks about Christians that are literally dying because they are celebrating the Eucharist unworthily (c.f., 1 Cor 11:30).
How has celebrating the mass become so ordinary and optional?
How do we not fall down, prostrate ourselves every time?
How do we live our lives so casually and carelessly and recklessly—but our body is part of that same Sacred Body of Jesus Christ?
How do we throw our bodies around, disrespect ourselves and our bodies, when our body is Christ’s body, when our body is now part of the Sacred Mystery of God, when our body should be reverenced and respected as much as we reverence and respect the Eucharist?
“Rise up…Your light has come” (Isa 60:1). We are not just supposed to follow some rules, and just go to confession if we break them. We have been made part of the Sacred Mystery of God himself. We are given the gift of entering deeper and deeper into this Sacred Mystery each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist. It is a gift.