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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS "

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD - January 7, 2017

Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

A BIG THANK YOU

Thank you for the contributions you made to support this ministry of the Word of God. As I mentioned in our Advent Appeal, this free service is used by many parishioners and preachers. How many, you ask? Each week we average 9,000 hits on our webpage. Our weekly emails go to 8,500 people.

We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you.

If you didn’t get around to it and would still like to make a contribution, send tax deductible checks to:

Attn: "First Impressions"

Make payable to:  Dominican Friars

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Irving, Texas 75062-4736

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Thank you.


 

The

Epiphany

Of the

Lord

 

The glow of Christmas has mostly faded, but there are still signs of it in some places, especially here in church. So what happens if you didn’t feel the "Christmas spirit" and don’t want to be continually reminded of it? What if the school Christmas pageants, store decorations, television specials, carols on the radio and gifts under the tree didn’t cheer you up, but in fact were "downers." In church the Christmas season doesn’t end on the 26th, instead we are reminded today that it is still in full flower. There are people in the congregation who feel like they are out of step with the cheery carols, nativity scene and candle lights. It’s not that they are Grinchs; rather they find themselves in pain and it seems to feel worse at this time of year, multiplied by the season’s sights, smells and sounds. They feel alienated and not able to unburden themselves because they don’t want to be a spoiler of good cheer.

There are more of these people in the congregation than we realize, or than superficial appearances reveal. People smile a lot during this time, even when their heart isn’t in it. What causes them to feel outside the circle? They may have harsh memories of childhood Christmases due to domestic violence or drug and alcohol addiction in their home. When they were young their parents may have been chronically ill, leaving them with adult responsibilities before they were old enough to deal with them. They miss the childhood they never had. Others had parents die, or their home split by a contentious divorce. Poverty, then or now, deprives parents of the ability to buy presents for their children. There are also childless couples, gay people, or parents who have had a child die. For them, this children’s feast is particularly hard. Sickness knows no "proper season," no "appropriate time." Some worshipers are struggling with cancer for themselves or someone they love. Whole congregations can feel alienated from this holiday season. There are also poor congregations who are like outsiders looking into a rich person’s home where a banquet is in progress.

It helps to take the pain, our own, or our parishioners’, to the scriptures and to this feast, to hear if there is any good news for those who feel out of it. And if we feel this is preaching to the minority that’s ok. First of all, in some places those hurting may be in the majority. Or, if our hearers are going through good times now, we all can remember a time when each day hurt. So, as we remember the difficult times, we celebrate our deliverance with a Eucharist of thanksgiving. We also know from our life experience that a time will come when hurt will again predominate. If the preacher addresses the pain some feel this season, then even those who are not going through a dark period, will be reassured that there will be good news for them, if and when the hard times return.

Epiphany celebrates God’s "showing forth," Jesus’ manifestation to the world. We are celebrating that God "shows up" in the places where there is need, just when darkness seems to have an unbreakable grip on our heart and spirit.

Isaiah addresses the darkness. "See darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the peoples...." He starts with a rousing command, "Rise up...!" Why, for heaven’s sake? Because God’s light is coming, like a rising sun. The "darkness" that Isaiah says covers the earth has a poetic link to the primordial darkness at the beginning, in Genesis, when God created light. We are reminded of the power of God that can overcome any darkness – even the darkness that preceded creation. Isaiah is suggesting that what God could do once, God can do again. The line in that passage that conveys this hope begins with the word... "But." It is a word of interruption, a contradiction to what has been. After we list the darkness and name the pain, we put faith in a God who can say, "BUT" – and bring light. In some situations only the Creator can effect a change, or give us the hope to get us through.

Isaiah prepares us for today’s gospel. He says believers will experience God’s "shining" through – the manifestation of God in themselves. But also, because of the light in them, others will "walk by your light." He is speaking of the Gentiles. God is reaching out to non-believers through the light that shines from believers. The gospel shows God’s star lighting the way to the Jewish couple and their child where God is manifested among humans.

People who feel like outsiders this season may hear a note of hope in Isaiah. There will be light for the "nations" – a reference to the Gentiles. And Israel’s children ("sons from afar...daughters in you arms") will gather in the restored Jerusalem. We must remember that Gentiles and even children were marginal people in the Jewish community after the exile. They had no, or at the most, minimal rights. On this Epiphany we may identify with these marginated and hear a note of promise addressed to them and us. Hear the promise, "You shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow." When we can not see a way out or relief on the horizon, we need to lean on this promise, "you shall be radiant...." This is not an empty promise, a pat on the back and an encouragement to "look on the bright side of life." This is a promise from God, who created light where there was no light. People who were "other" now can see in a way they couldn’t on their own and so they come to believe what could easily be missed in darkness and struggle – God is doing something that will evoke praise and thanksgiving.

Enter the magi, the outsiders. (On this feast I try to read T.S. Eliot’s, "The Journey of the Magi." I highly recommend it as a way of reflecting on the trip the magi made.) These are people who have made a journey, leaving behind the familiar in search of the truth. They do not have the rich Jewish prophetic tradition that would guide them. Strange, isn’t it, that King Herod does have those sources? He asks the religious leaders and they tell him Bethlehem is the place from which the new shepherd of Israel, the "Christ" – messiah, will come. Those who were supposed to be religiously attuned, don’t go in search of the one the prophets had anticipated. Instead, the Gentile magi, who are open to change, continue their quest.

Whatever the diligence of our previous religious observance, today is another gospel-illumined day. We can put aside the past, let ourselves be guided by the gospel narrative and make our journey to the place where our truth is found. This is a day for people willing to let go of whatever holds our spirits back, start all over and make the journey in the direction of the one who gives us new vision. This is a feast of universality, where all are welcome to God’s saving embrace. Outsiders have nothing to fear.

We notice the travelers brought gifts reminiscent of Psalm 72: 10-11. Gold was a gift for royalty; myrrh for anointing the dead and frankincense was for the altar of sacrifice. The gifts hearken to Jesus’ present and future. Our life is a journey home to God. Like the magi’s trip, there will be detours, questions and risk along the way. We know where we are going – to eventual union with God. How and when, are unknowns; but through faith our destination is assured. Unlike the magi, we won’t need to bring anything with us – just ourselves, our faith in Christ.

Our gifts to the Christ child are the gifts we give in response to others. Which, when he got older, is what Jesus told us to do. These gifts were when we brought food to the poor, shelter to the homeless, relief to debtors, medicine to the sick and, most of all, the gift of our own presence standing besides the vulnerable and the outsiders. Today we celebrate that God has first given us a gift; Jesus was God’s own doing, not ours, for the benefit of all the world. We realize and celebrate this gift by our enthusiastic celebration of the eucharist today, AND...we can celebrate our "epiphany faith" by generous gift giving in the places we encounter the many disguises of Christ in the world.

We will soon be tossing out our Christmas trees, if we haven’t done so already, cleaning up the house and getting back to "normal." We will want to be careful that we don’t forget that at the heart of this Christmas season is God’s gift to us. We live and believe in the security that God’s gift will always be there for us, our guiding star on our journey home. Meanwhile, on the way, we will continue doing the work of getting Christ more and more into our lives and into the life of the world. Epiphany is the feast of travelers, a reminder that through us, Christ will continue to be born in the most unlikely places and will travel with us into our world.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010718.cfm

QUOTABLE

...the truth is that silence plays as central a role in Christian scripture as in Hebrew. In each of the gospels, the Word comes forth from silence. For John, it is the silence at the beginning of creation. For Luke, it is the silence of poor old Zechariah, struck dumb by the angel Gabriel for doubting that Elizabeth would bear a child. For Matthew, it is the awkward silence between Joseph and Mary when she tells him her prenuptial news, and for Mark it is the voice of one crying in the wilderness--- the long-forgotten voice of prophecy puncturing the silence of the desert and of time.

—Barbara Brown Taylor in, When God is Silent. (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1998) page 74.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

--Isaiah 60: 4

This week (January 7-13) has been designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as "National Migration Week." Intertwined today is God’s manifestation (epiphany) in the world through the story of the visit of the journeying Magi. The story teaches that we may fail to recognize God’s presence in our midst, and may need insight from the strangers God sends to help us. The USCCB writes the following:

The theme for National Migration Week 2017, "Many Journeys, One Family," draws attention to the fact that each of our families have a migration story. . .Regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.

Unfortunately, in our contemporary culture we often fail to encounter migrants as persons, and instead look at them as unknown others, if we even notice them at all. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious or fearful of them.

Welcoming immigrants is part of Catholic Social Teaching and reflects the Biblical tradition to welcome the stranger. Pope Francis invites us to be part of a culture of encounter-- welcoming, protecting, integrating, and promoting immigrants and refugees in our midst. As he states, "We discover that they do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them." What encounter with God are we missing by walling ourselves off from encountering migrants and refugees and in failing to recognize that we are one family of humankind?

With the forced displacement of people at the highest level since World War II (more than 65 million people displaced around the world and over 22 million refugees), we need to do all we can to keep the human story of the effects of displacement center front and urge our leaders to remember the new strengths immigrants bring.

During this National Migration Week, let us all take the opportunity to engage migrants as community members, neighbors, and friends. To join Justice for Immigrants, contact socialconcern@hnojnc.org

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Isaiah reading:

See, darkness covers the earth,

and thick clouds cover the peoples;

but upon you the Lord shines,

and over you appears God’s glory.

Reflection:

Isaiah reminds us that believers will experience God’s "shining" through the darkness. Because of that light in believers, others will "walk by your light." He is speaking of the Gentiles. God is reaching out to non-believers through the light that shines from believers.

So we ask ourselves:

  • How and where do I experience the darkness in the world?
  • How can I let the light of God shine through to others who are in the darkness?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Jonathan Richardson #1019362 (On death row since4/4/2014)
  • Antwan Anthony #1293151 (4/6/2016)
  • ----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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