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The Epiphany of the Lord
January 8, 2017

Click here to listen to this homily (.mp4 file)

     A few years ago I read Stephen Ambrose’s masterful account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage. It was a riveting read from start to finish, a fascinating chronicle of the remarkable courage and endurance of those two great American trailblazers who stopped at nothing to pursue a vision. The book certainly fired my imagination as I’m sure it did that of everyone who read it and it came to mind as I reflected on the Magi story which is the centerpiece of this great feast of the Epiphany. The Magi story is rich with meaning on several levels, but on one level it’s a story of “undaunted courage” and a story of unwavering hope.

     The gospels don’t paint a clear picture of the Magi but we all have vivid pictures of them in our mind’s eye.  A lifetime of Christmas cards and Christian art has given the Magi richly colored flowing robes, golden crowns, and exotic turbans like those depicted in the cathedral’s north transept window or in our manger scene in the cathedral chapel.  Are these accurate pictures?  Probably not.  Richly brocaded robes and jeweled crowns wouldn’t have travelled very well across moor and mountain!

     No matter.  What the Magi wore is far less important than what they were -- for they were seekers, these Magi, and they speak to the seeker in each one of us.  With undaunted courage and unwavering hope these shadowy figures from out of the East risked the darkness to follow a star.  For reasons we can only guess at they put their faith in a mysterious message they were able to read in the night sky.  In the midst of darkness, they put their faith in the light.

     It takes courage to do that – to leave the light and to plunge into darkness in search of something unknown. Most people prefer the clarity of daylight and the comfort of familiar surroundings.  Only true seekers will brave the dark and take the path unknown.  The Magi were seekers.

     My friends, on our journey of life and faith, we need the courage of the Magi. We need it to coax us beyond our comfort zones and our false securities, our fears and anxieties. If we are stuck in old patterns – on hold, just treading water - we need the courage of the Magi to break free and set out for new places along our spiritual journey – places we might otherwise be afraid to go for fear that getting there might cost too much and leave us with too little.  We need the courage of the Magi to get out of our spiritual doldrums. We do.

     And our Church needs the courage of the Magi as it struggles to read the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. Our Church needs brave, visionary leaders like Pope Francis, always faithful to the great Tradition, yes, but not afraid to grapple with questions for which there are no ready answers in the back of the book - thorny contemporary questions of ethics and pastoral practice the answers to which may well take the Church to new and uncharted places.

     Our nation needs the courage and vision of the Magi, too, as we stand at a crossroads quite unlike any we’ve known before with deep divisions and open hostilities - great anxieties for some and great hopes for others. In the midst of all this, our nation needs leaders with Magi-like courage and vision who will capture our imagination and unite us in building a society where no one gets left behind, a society where the poor have priority of place and racism and sexism have no place; a society committed to peace and non-violence, a society committed to caring for the magnificent gift that is God’s creation.  And I would add on this day when we celebrate the Magi (total outsiders who became insiders) that we need leaders who, like Pope Francis, refuse to forget the outsiders of today: political and economic refugees and immigrants, victims of globalized indifference - many of them victims of wars certainly not of their making - who want the same things as we do: freedom, opportunity, and a decent life for themselves and their children.

     My friends, for any of this to happen, we need Magi-like courage and Magi-like leaders to spark some new solutions and lead us to some new places. And we also need to keep before us the glorious, hope-filled vision of Isaiah that we heard in today’s first reading.  “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…Darkness cover the earth and thick clouds the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light and rulers by the brightness of your dawn!”

     That, dear friends, is the great Epiphany vision, the great Epiphany dream.  We’ve had enough darkness.  It’s time for some light.  Time to follow the star, time to let the light that is Christ and his Gospel move us beyond where we are as individuals, as a Church, and as citizens of this great country.

      In the Magi story, the fearful and jealous King Herod with his tight little coterie of priests and scribes bent on destroying the child Jesus, represents all the old solutions.  The Magi represent something new and fresh and untried.  They knew all the old answers and were daring enough to believe in something new.  Dreamers, stargazers, risk-takers – call them what you will -- they followed the star determined to find the light. May the Magi lead the way for us and our troubled world – lead us to the Child, the tiny, vulnerable, powerless Child who alone has the power to take us someplace new!

Father Michael G. Ryan 



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