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Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Homily – The Second Sunday of Christmas, The Epiphany

First Reading - Isaiah 60:1-6 ©
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13 ©
Second Reading - Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 2:2
The Gospel of the Day - Matthew 2:1-12 ©

The words of the Prophet must be understood in metaphorical terms. There is no other way to read them.

Isaiah is speaking to us about inclusiveness, he is projecting his understanding that the God of the Hebrew people is the God of all people. The one and only God, the creator of the universe is God over everyone, and that we are united in this, ven though we cannot see it clearly in the present world.

Isaiah expresses the hope that at the end of time, all people will be united in actuality, there will be no division among us, no war, no enmity, everyone will have been brought to the table by God and we will share a common feast.

This is not an expectation of hope for this world. It is an expectation of hope for the world to come.

Isaiah understands that God will not affect these changes in the lives of the people today, he takes the long view. He is looking to the eschaton.

Remember this when you are reading Isaiah, or any other passage from scripture; God does not intervene in the affairs of human beings, God does not appoint rulers and kings.

God; creator of the universe, God will not rescue you in this world.

God has made you, and us, God has made the world itself absolutely free, God will not exercise any form of divine coercion, God does not intervene in our lives, whether to our benefit or to our detriment. God will not intervene.

Note well: God is not a king. God has no desire for us to pay homage to God as if God were.

Be mindful of this; human beings are obsessed with mysteries, conspiracies. God, the creator of the universe, God has no such obsession.

God has made the truth plain and easy for us to know.

The only mystery is why human beings have such a hard time understanding it, once they have heard it.

The secret to the good life is written in our hearts, we all possess, it is not kept from as at all. The secret is an open secret, and if we receive it, believe in it, we can have in the small measure of our lives the realization of the hope that Isaiah spoke to. We can have the blessing of unity, through the mutual recognition of one another’s dignity, and through love.

Jesus and all of the prophets speak to this: Love God with all of your strength, all of your heart, all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.

Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you.

This is the sum of the revelation God gave us in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus himself give us this formula and tells us that it contains the entire teaching of the law and the prophets.

Saint Paul elaborates, he tells us this, between faith, hope and love; the greatest is love. He says that if he speak in the tongues of angels, and of men, but does not speak lovingly, then the words are nonsense, they are so much noise.

Remember this, carry it forward and have it present with you at all times, but especially when you are at prayer or reading scripture.

If we are not interpreting the scripture through that lens we are not understanding it all.

The words of the Prophet must be understood in metaphorical terms. There is no other way to read them.

Consider the Gospel for today, the message here has nothing to do with the core values of the faith. The reading is the beginning of an argument meant to influence our perception and understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was, not what he came to do. This is an important distinction for the faith.

Mark’s gospel, the earliest, has no reference to these events presented in the reading from Matthew for today, no reference at all, and John’s gospel, the latest skips over them completely.

Luke’s gospel relates a similar set of events, but in his narrative Jesus is visited by three shepherds, not the Magi.

Apologists for the gospel tradition claim that Luke and Matthew were relating separate events, and they encourage us not to conflate them.

Let us proceed with the understanding that no such events actually took place, what we have in both gospels, is a work of narrative fiction, they are a myths, as such they are packed with metaphorical and allegorical meanings.

They are not to be taken literally.

Let us proceed with Matthew’s gospel. He tells us that three wise men, the Magi, come to Jesus and Mary after his birth and do him homage. They present him with gifts of gold and other offerings befitting a royal person, treasures of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

This is real wealth, enough to set Mary and Joseph and the Holy family up for life. If we accept this story as fact we can no longer believe that Jesus was the son of a humble carpenter.

The image is intended to establish the image of Jesus as a royal person, as the heir to David’s throne, like Herod feared, it is intended to show Jesus as a contender.

The popular interpretation of this reading is to view the Magi themselves as not just wise men, but as kings in their own right, putting their encounter with Jesus on the level of a diplomatic mission, they are of the same class, and they present gifts of the type that the laws of hospitality would demand royal powers share with each other.

The reading not only builds on the foundation of Jesus’ kingship, which the writers of Matthew begin in the presentation of Jesus’ genealogy. It also connects him to the priestly class of ancient Persia, the astronomers and priests of Zoroaster, to which Pharisaic Judaism owes a significant theological debt. This is the Judaism of the diaspora, otherwise known as Rabbinical Judaism, the sect of Judaism to which Jesus and the disciples, and Paul of Taursus belonged.

The myth is intended to convey these points and those points only, that Jesus is the heir to David, and that he is connected to mysteries of the ancient and influential Persian tradition. The same Persian tradition that was practiced by the emperor Cyrus when he released the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, so that they could return to Judea and rebuild the temple. The same Cyrus who viewed the God of the Persians, Ahura- Mazda, as one and the same with the God of the Hebrews.

The Herodian intrigue is of secondary importance to these messages. It complements the message concerning Jesus’ identity, and sets up the Herodian dynasty as a group of villains that the disciples, along with John the Baptist and Jesus will have to contend with throughout their lives. In addition the drama with Herod at Jesus’ birth topologically connects the birth of Jesus to the birth of Moses, and while these are important cues, they are not nearly as important as the main theme, which I have articulated above.

First Reading - Isaiah 60:1-6 ©

Above you the glory of the Lord appears

Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.
Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears.
The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.
Lift up your eyes and look round: all are assembling and coming towards you, your sons from far away and your daughters being tenderly carried.
At this sight you will grow radiant, your heart throbbing and full; since the riches of the sea will flow to you, the wealth of the nations come to you; camels in throngs will cover you, and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; everyone in Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and singing the praise of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13 ©

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
  to a king’s son your justice,
that he may judge your people in justice
  and your poor in right judgement.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

In his days justice shall flourish
  and peace till the moon fails.
He shall rule from sea to sea,
  from the Great River to earth’s bounds.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

The kings of Tarshish and the sea coasts
  shall pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Seba
  shall bring him gifts.
Before him all kings shall fall prostrate,
  all nations shall serve him.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

For he shall save the poor when they cry
  and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
  and save the lives of the poor.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

Second Reading - Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 ©

It Has Now Been Revealed that Pagans Share the Same Inheritance

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.

Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 2:2

Alleluia, alleluia!

We saw his star as it rose
and have come to do the Lord homage.


Gospel - Matthew 2:1-12 ©

The Visit of the Magi

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The Second Sunday of Christmas
            And the Epiphany of the Lord

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