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The Epiphany of the Lord
January 3, 2021

     I’m sure many of you have seen the new and improved star on the old Macy’s department store building downtown. If that star were true to its origins, it wouldn’t be flashing Seahawks blue and green and the Big 12 today (important though the be!); no, it would be the brilliant gold of the Epiphany star. Sadly, the star’s origins are all but forgotten. You have to be an old guy like me to know that what people now call the Seattle Star was once the star of Bethlehem. Below it, in a large display window, was a manger scene with Mary, Joseph, and the Child, and the shepherds and the Magi arriving on the scene cleverly propelled on a movable track. For a young boy like me, it was magical.

     But even though the original meaning of that star has been lost, it was still good to have a star there this strange Christmas that came at the end of a year singularly devoid of stars, a year of dark clouds, dark horizons and dark fears. We needed some light, some hope, and that great star hovering over secular Seattle was, for me, at least, a hint or a symbol of the light we all seek, the light we long for.

     This feast of the Epiphany is about many things. It’s a story about seeking and finding, a story about jealousy and generosity, and it’s a story about the wideness of God’s mercy that knows no bounds. But at its heart, this feast is about light. It’s about a bright light in the heavens that led mysterious seekers to Christ the light. It celebrates the fact that, in Christ, we have light, a light that surpasses all others, a light that overcomes the darkness, no matter how dark. And whoever would have guessed that this long-awaited light would turn out to be a tiny, helpless child in a manger? Only God could have come up with that!

     Light. Our world longs for light, and people look for it in various places. This year some are seeing the arrival of vaccines to fight a deadly virus as the most promising light on the horizon. And the vaccines are a light, for sure - a bright one - but they are not the light. Others may hail a compromised and controversial stimulus bill bringing some relief to many as the light at the end of a very dark tunnel, and there’s light there, too, but certainly not the light. And a newly-elected President who speaks of bridging gaps and bringing us together is, in the minds of some - not all, of course - a ray of light. But again, new leaders may offer a glimmer of light but they’re not the light. And then there’s our wonderful, human, holy, courageous, sometimes controversial, down-to-earth Pope who, more than any leader on this earth, is urging us away from our selfish, self-destructive ways, calling us to form friendships across all divides, and to care for this fragile planet of ours. Pope Francis is certainly a burst of light and a beacon of light, but he is not the light.

     My friends, as promising as any of those things or people may be, they are totally eclipsed by the One who alone is the Light, light brighter by far than the Bethlehem star, light that came into our world at a pivotal moment in human history, light that not all the darkness in the universe nor all the powers of darkness, have been able to overcome, or ever will.   

     And we have seen that light. We have. We live in its glow. We have arrived at this feast of the Epiphany of the year 2021 after crossing a desert of death, disappointment, and discouragement. Since last March, we have dealt on a daily basis with an alarming, unchecked, upward spiral of deaths to the point where we’ve almost grown numb from the numbers, and we’ve grown weary of living with all the restrictions: lockdowns, self-quarantines, working from home, shuttered schools, shuttered restaurants, and the annoyance of having to adjust time and again to a calendar of limitations that keeps getting pushed further and further out. So, yes, we need this feast of the Epiphany. We need light; we need the Light!

     Isaiah’s words in the first reading were spoken to people living in the darkness of exile in a foreign land who also needed light. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem, your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines and over you appears his glory!” What deliriously happy words those must have been when Isaiah first spoke them but, you know, they should be every bit as happy for us who hear them now for, my friends, we actually know the Light that Isaiah could only point to so long ago. We not only know the Light, we have seen the Light, been fired by it, set aglow by it. That’s what our baptism is about - we actually carry the Light within us, the Light that is Christ!

     It’s the same light the Magi found when they offered their precious gifts - a light brighter by far than the star that led them there, and whatever darkness they endured during their long journey must have vanished when they saw the Child - vanished like fog before the morning sun.

     My friends, this feast of the Epiphany can lead us out of whatever darkness we find ourselves in, lead us to Christ the Light who wants to give us new eyes for seeing everything. Everything: our lives, our faith, our families, our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends, our nation, our planet, our universe. And, yes, as I said on Christmas, this Christ also wants to give us new eyes for seeing him where we least expect to find him: in the poor, the needy, and the neglected. He shines in them and when we discover him, the light shines more brightly in us. May it shine as brightly as the Seattle star!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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