Sunday, January 08, 2023

Christmas as Crisis

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 71 (72): 1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Ephesians 3: 2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

Picture: cc Alvaro [Ando] & Marcin Wichary on Flickr

My dear friends, do you know what luminol is? Those who’ve ever watched the old TV series, CSI, may remember this. Luminol is the chemical that crime scene investigators use to uncover traces of blood, even on surfaces that have already been cleaned. Once the liquid comes in contact with blood, it emits a blue glow that can be clearly seen in a darkened room. That’s what luminol does. It reveals hidden things.

And isn’t this also what today’s feast tells us about Christmas? Epiphany means revelation. At Christmas, the previously invisible almighty God is revealed as a visible helpless human baby. Also, unlike in past generations, this revelation is not just to a privileged few, but to all nations. For though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, the light of Christ now shines clearly for all to see. This is also the mystery that the second reading proclaims. The good news that, in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, even pagans (like us) now share the same inheritance.

But there’s more. In manifesting God’s merciful love for all peoples, Christmas also shines a revealing light on us, uncovering what may be hidden even from ourselves. Not just the colour of our passports, the size of our bank accounts, or the shape of our social networks, but the disposition of our hearts, what or whom it is we really worship.

Isn’t this what we see in the gospel? The birth of Jesus causes a crisis, evoking contrasting reactions. The wise men–all pagans–see the star, and make an arduous journey to a foreign land, in search of the newborn king. And, upon finding him, they fall down before him in humble worship. The whole of Jerusalem and her leaders, however, do not respond as the prophecy says they should. Not only do they fail to spot the star, instead of growing radiant, with hearts throbbing and full, news of the long-awaited messiah’s birth troubles them. And, rather than worshipping him, Herod seeks to have him killed. A clear sign of idolatry.

All of which brings to mind what Pope Francis says about crises, in the book entitled Let Us Dream, published in 2020, when the world was still engulfed in the shadows of the pandemic: In the trials of life, you reveal your heart: how solid it is, how merciful, how big or small. Normal times are like formal social situations: you never have to reveal yourself.… But when you are in a crisis, it’s the opposite. You have to choose. And in making the choice you reveal your heart…. In moments of crisis… people reveal themselves as they are. Some spend themselves in the service of those in need, and some get rich off other people’s need… If the Pope is right, then a crisis is like luminol. It brings hidden things to light. And Christmas does the same.

Sisters and brothers, even as international borders reopen, and many are understandably eager for revenge-travel, what is the light of Christ revealing to us about ourselves, as individuals, as church, and as a society today?

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