An "epiphany" is an appearance. In today's readings, with their rising stars, splendorous lights and mysteries revealed, the face of the child born on Christmas day appears.
Herod, in today's Gospel, asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. The answer Matthew puts on their lips says much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise - one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting "a ruler of Israel" who will "shepherd his flock" and whose "greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth" (see Micah 5:1-3).
Those promises of Israel's king ruling the nations resound also in today's Psalm. The psalm celebrates David's son, Solomon. His kingdom, we sing, will stretch "to the ends of the earth," and the world's kings will pay Him homage. That's the scene too in today's First Reading, as nations stream from the East, bearing "gold and frankincense" for Israel's king.
The Magi's pilgrimage in today's Gospel marks the fulfillment of God's promises. The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, are following the star that Balaam predicted would rise along with the ruler's staff over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17).
Laden with gold and spices, their journey evokes those made to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba and the "kings of the earth" (see 1 Kings 10:2,25; 2 Chronicles ). Interestingly, the only other places where frankincense and myrrh are mentioned together are in songs about Solomon (see Song of Songs 3:6, 4:6,14).
One greater than Solomon is here (see Luke ). He has come to reveal that all peoples are "co-heirs" of the royal family of Israel, as today's Epistle teaches.
His manifestation forces us to choose: Will we follow the signs that lead to Him as the wise Magi did? Or will we be like those priests and the scribes who let God's words of promise become dead letters on an ancient page?
Underlying the wisdom offered in today's Liturgy is the mystery of the family in God's divine plan.
The Lord has set father in honor over his children and mother in authority over her sons, we hear in today's First Reading. As we sing in today's Psalm, the blessings of the family flow from Zion, the heavenly mother of the royal people of God (see Isaiah 66:7,10-13; Galatians 4:26).
And in the drama of today's Gospel, we see the nucleus of the new people of God - the Holy Family - facing persecution from those who would seek to destroy the child and His Kingdom.
Moses, called to save God's first born son, the people of Israel (see Exodus 4:22; Sirach 36:11), was also threatened at birth by a mad and jealous tyrant (see Exodus 1:15-16). And as Moses was saved by his mother and sister (see Exodus 2:1-10; 4:19), in God's plan Jesus too is rescued by His family.
As once God took the family of Jacob down to Egypt to make them the great nation Israel (see Genesis 46:2-4), God leads the Holy Family to Egypt to prepare the coming of the new Israel of God - the Church (see Galatians 6:16).
At the beginning of the world, God established the family in the "marriage" of Adam and Eve, the two becoming one body (see Genesis 2:22-24). Now in the new creation, Christ is made "one body" with His bride, the Church, as today's Epistle indicates (see Ephesians 5:21-32).
By this union we are made God's chosen ones, holy and beloved. And our families are to radiate the perfect love that binds us to Christ in the Church.
As we approach the altar on this feast, let us renew our commitment to our God-given duties as spouses, children and parents. Mindful of the promises of today's First Reading, let us offer our quiet performance of these duties for the atonement of our sins.
Isaiah 7:10-14 Psalm 24:1-6 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-24
The mystery kept secret for long ages, promised through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, is today revealed (see Romans 16:25-26).
This is the "Gospel of God" that Paul celebrates in today's Epistle - the good news that "God is with us" in Jesus Christ. The sign promised to the House of David in today's First Reading is given in today's Gospel. In the virgin found with child, God himself has brought to Israel a savior from David's royal line (see Acts 13:22-23).
Son of David according to the flesh, Jesus is the Son of God, born of the Spirit. He will be anointed with the Spirit (see Acts 10:38), and by the power of Spirit will be raised from the dead and established at God's right hand in the heavens (see Acts 2:33-34; Ephesians 1:20-21).
He is the "King of Glory" we sing of in today's Psalm. The earth in its fullness has been given to Him. And as God swore long ago to David, His Kingdom will have no end (see Psalm 89:4-5).
In Jesus Christ we have a new creation. Like the creation of the world, it is a work of the Spirit, a blessing from the Lord (see Genesis 1:2). In Him, we are saved from our sins, are called now "the beloved of God."
All nations now are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to enter into the House of David and Kingdom of God, the Church. Together, through the obedience of faith, we have been made a new race - a royal people that seeks for the face of the God of Jacob.
He has made our hearts clean, made us worthy to enter His holy place, to stand in His presence and serve Him.
In the Eucharist, the everlasting covenant is renewed, the Advent promise of virgin with child - God with us - continues until the end of the age (see Matthew 28:20; Ezekiel 37:24-28).
Isaiah 35:1-6,10 Psalm 146:6-10 James 5:7-10 Matthew 11:2-11
John questions Jesus from prison in today's Gospel - for his disciples' sake and for ours.
He knows that Jesus is doing "the works of the Messiah," foretold in today's First Reading and Psalm. But John wants his disciples - and us - to know that the Judge is at the gate, that in Jesus our God has come to save us.
The Liturgy of Advent takes us out into the desert to see and hear the marvelous works and words of God - the lame leaping like a stag, the dead raised, the good news preached to the poor (see Isaiah 29:18-20; 61:1-2).
The Liturgy does this to give us courage, to strengthen our feeble hands and make firm our weak knees. Our hearts can easily become frightened and weighed down by the hardships we face. We can lose patience in our sufferings as we await the coming of the Lord.
As James advises in today's Epistle, we should take as our example the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Jesus also points us to a prophet - holding up John as a model. John knew that life was more than food, the body more than clothing. He sought the kingdom of God first, confident that God would provide (see Matthew 6:25-34). John did not complain. He did not lose faith. Even in chains in his prison cell, he was still sending his disciples - and us - to our Savior.
We come to Him again now in the Eucharist. Already He has caused the desert to bloom, the burning sands to become springs of living water. He has opened our ears to hear the words of the sacred book, freed our tongue to fill the air with songs of thanksgiving (see Isaiah 30:18).
Once bowed down, captives to sin and death, we have been ransomed and returned to His Kingdom, crowned with everlasting joy. Raised up we now stand before His altar to meet the One who is to come: "Here is your God."
"The kingdom of heaven is at hand," John proclaims. And the Liturgy today paints us a vivid portrait of our new king and the shape of the kingdom He has come to bring.
The Lord whom John prepares the way for in today's Gospel is the righteous king prophesied in today's First Reading and Psalm. He is the king's son, the son of David - a shoot from the root of Jesse, David's father (see Ruth 4:17).
He will be the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit (see 2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39; Psalm 2:2), endowed with the seven gifts of the Spirit - wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
He will rule with justice, saving the poor from the ruthless and wicked. His rule will be not only over Israel - but will extend from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth. He will be a light, a signal to all nations. And they will seek Him and pay Him homage.
In Him, all the tribes of the earth will find blessing. The covenant promise to Abraham (see Genesis 12:3), renewed in God's oath to David (see Psalm 89:4,28), will be fulfilled in His dynasty. And His name will be blessed forever.
In Christ, God confirms His oath to Israel's patriarchs, Paul tells us in today's Epistle. But no longer are God's promises reserved solely for the children of Abraham. The Gentiles, too, will glorify God for His mercy. Once strangers, in Christ they will be included in "the covenants of promise" (see Ephesians 2:12).
John delivers this same message in the Gospel. Once God's chosen people were hewn from the rock of Abraham (see Isaiah 51:1-2). Now, God will raise up living stones (see 1 Peter 2:5) - children of Abraham born not of flesh and blood but of the Spirit.
This is the meaning of the fiery baptism He brings - making us royal heirs of the kingdom of heaven, the Church.
His point here is that the exact "hour" is not important. What is crucial is that we not postpone our repentance, that we be ready for Him - spiritually and morally - when He comes. For He will surely come, He tells us - like a thief in the night, like the flood in the time of Noah.
In today's Epistle, Paul too compares the present age to a time of advancing darkness and night.
Though we sit in the darkness, overshadowed by death, we have seen arise the great light of our Lord who has come into our midst (see Matthew 4:16;John 1:9; 8:12). He is the true light, the life of the world. And His light continues to shine in His Church, the new Jerusalem promised by Isaiah in today's First Reading.
In the Church, all nations stream to the God of Jacob, to worship and seek wisdom in the House of David. From the Church goes forth His word of instruction, the light of the Lord - that all might walk in His paths toward that eternal day when night will be no more (see Revelation 22:5).
By our Baptism we have been made children of the light and day (see Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5-7). It is time we start living like it - throwing off the fruitless works of darkness, the desires of the flesh, and walking by the light of His grace.
The hour is late as we begin a new Advent. Let us begin again in this Eucharist.
As we sing in today's Psalm, let us go rejoicing to the House of the Lord. Let us give thanks to His name, keeping watch for His coming, knowing that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
In the figure of Zacchaeus in today's Gospel, we have a portrait of a lost soul. He is a tax collector, by profession a "sinner" excluded from Israel's religious life. Not only that, he is a "chief tax collector." Worse still, he is a rich man who has apparently gained his living by fraud.
But Zacchaeus' faith brings salvation to his house. He expresses his faith in his fervent desire to "see" Jesus, even humbling himself to climb a tree just to watch Him pass by. While those of loftier religious stature react to Jesus with grumbling, Zacchaeus receives Him with joy.
Zacchaeus is not like the other rich men Jesus meets or tells stories about (see Luke 12:16-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25). He repents, vowing to pay restitution to those he has cheated and to give half of his money to the poor.
By his humility he is exalted, made worthy to welcome the Lord into his house. By his faith, he is justified, made a descendant of Abraham (see Romans 4:16-17).
As He did last week, Jesus is again using a tax collector to show us the faith and humility we need to obtain salvation.
We are also called to seek Jesus daily with repentant hearts. And we should make our own Paul's prayer in today's Epistle: that God might make us worthy of His calling, that by our lives we might give glory to the name of Jesus.
The Pharisee's prayer is almost a parody of the thanksgiving psalms (see for example Psalms 30,118). Instead of praising God for His mighty works, the Pharisee congratulates himself for his own deeds, which he presents to God in some detail.
The tax collector stands at a distance, too ashamed even to raise his eyes to God (see Ezra 9:6). He prays with a humble and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:19). He knows that before God no one is righteous, no one has cause to boast (see Roman 3:10; 4:2).
Today is the memorial of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch at the end of the first century. In this interview, Patristics scholar and St. Paul Center vice president, Mike Aquilina, discusses the life and legacy of this important early witness to the faith of the Apostles.
Exodus 17:8-13 Psalm 121:1-8 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 Luke 18:1-8
The Lord is our guardian, beside us at our right hand, interceding for us in all our spiritual battles.
In today's Psalm we're told to lift our eyes to the mountains, that our help will come from Mount Zion and the Temple - the dwelling of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Joshua and the Israelites, in today's First Reading, are also told to look to the hilltops. They are to find their help there - through the intercession of Moses - as they defend themselves against their mortal foes, the Amalekites.
Notice the image: Aaron and Hur standing on each side of Moses, holding his weary arms so that he can raise the staff of God above his head. Moses is being shown here as a figure of Jesus, who also climbed a hilltop, and on Mount Calvary stretched out His hands between heaven and earth to intercede for us against the final enemy - sin and death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26).
By the staff of God, Moses bested Israel's enemies (see Exodus 7:8-12;8:1-2), parted the Red Sea (see Exodus ) and brought water from the Rock (see Exodus 17:6).
The Cross of Jesus is the new staff of God, bringing about a new liberation from sin, bringing forth living waters from the body of Christ, the new Temple of God (see John 2:19-21; 7:37-39; 19:34; 1 Corinthians 10:4).
Like the Israelites and the widow in today's Gospel, we face opposition and injustice - at times from godless and pitiless adversaries.
We, too, must lift our eyes to the mountains - to Calvary and the God who will guard us from all evil.
We must pray always and not be wearied by our trials, Jesus tells us today. As Paul exhorts in today's Epistle, we need to remain faithful, to turn to the inspired Scriptures - given by God to train us in righteousness.
We must persist, so that when the Son of Man comes again in kingly power, He will indeed find faith on earth.