When you read this article we will have celebrated Christmas, the Feasts of St. Stephen the First Martyr, Holy Innocents, Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Solemnity of Mary, Thomas Becket, the holy Mother of God, Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, and today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany – whew, all of that since December 25th! In the dead of winter, on cool rainy winter days we look to the holy men and women of our church, who each in their own way brought light into the lives of men, women and children of their ages because they received and reflected back to others the light of Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Epiphany literally means “manifestation” God revealing self to the nations, and long ago in humble surroundings, in the darkness of a stable cave, wise men followed a star to the Christ child causing no small amount of consternation among King Herod and his courtiers. These magi, astrologers, not really kings followed the light to find Jesus who is “the light of the world and in him there is no darkness.” In presenting their gifts they challenge us to reflect on what gifts we bring to Christ this New Year.
It is still incredible and sometimes too much to wrap our minds around the mystery that the God of all creation became human, became one of us so that we might know God even better. God didn’t have to break into the world for God’s sake, but God broke into the world for our sake. Two thousand years later we are still reflecting on the meaning of this mystery and what it means to us. There is still a week left in our celebration of the Christmas season, Christmas cycle, anticipating the Baptism of the Lord next Sunday.
As we enter this New Year, Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy. A time when debts are forgiven, when fields may lie fallow, and we reflect on what it means to receive God’s mercy, first through our Baptism, second through the Eucharist we celebrate each week and third in the sacrament of reconciliation. More than that Pope Francis challenges us to bring the virtue of mercy into our lives at work, at school, in the marketplace and even in the coming elections. Over and over again, Jesus particularly in Matthew’s Gospel while reclining at table with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners, he says to the Pharisees raising objections against him, “Go and learn the meaning of “I desire mercy not sacrifice’. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Mt. 9:13.) Jesus describes mercy and justice more than mere observance of the law but a liberating vision, a source of new life always respecting the dignity of the person, calling sinners back home.
We will try to unpack this call to mercy throughout this coming year, through prayer, scripture reflection and acts of mercy, more than random acts of kindness. For all that God gives we give thanks, and pray for God’s mercy as we journey into this year of mercy.