On Christmas day, we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born.
Today, the feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the meaning of his birth.
The word “epiphany” means a “revelation”. The star that guides the wise men is a revelation that Jesus is the Savior of every nation and of all the world. God was revealing to all peoples - even to those from far away who had never heard the prophecies of a coming Messiah - that his salvation was coming to earth. It was not only to be for one people or one nation, but it was meant to spread to every land.
In our day, we may take it for granted that Jesus is Savior of the whole world. However, two thousand years ago, this would have been a revolutionary idea. Religion in the ancient world was limited to whatever tribe or nation one belonged to. The Romans had their gods as did the Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians. It would make no sense to have a Roman worshiping Greek gods or an Egyptian worshiping Babylonian gods. It also would have made no sense for Greeks to tell Romans that they should worship Greek gods. Religion was one of the factors that separated people as did nationality and language.
With the Jews, however, things began to change. They understood that there could only be one God. And if that God created the world, he must be God over every nation and peoples. However, they still understood that the coming Messiah would be a King first of all for the Jewish people. The nations would benefit from the wisdom, justice and peace that their Savior King would bring, but he would be “King of the Jews”.
We get a glimpse of this in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. It depicts God’s light shining on the people of Israel. The rest of the world is covered in darkness, but the radiance of God is beaming from the holy city of Jerusalem. All the nations of the world are drawn to that light and come from far off to witness it, as the wise men do. However, the light stays over Israel. It does not spread out to cover the rest of the world.
With the birth of Jesus, however, and throughout his life, we see that God has a bigger plan in mind. Not only would Jesus be King of the Jews, but he would also be Savior of the World. Not only would angels announce Jesus’ birth to Jewish shepherds but a star would proclaim it to wise men from distant lands. Not only would Jesus bring the good news to Jewish fishermen, but he would announce it to a Samaritan woman at a well and to a Roman soldier whose servant was ill. Jesus came to save every person no matter what their nationality, race or ethnicity might be. With the birth of Jesus, religion and faith are now no longer another factor separating people. Rather faith in Jesus Christ now is a means to gather people of every race and language together.
We see this beautifully displayed in our Catholic Church. The word “catholic” means “universal”. We are a universal church because we do not exclude anyone because of race or nationality. There are Catholic parishes in every country which recognizes freedom of religion. And in those countries where Christianity is still outlawed or persecuted, Catholics risk their lives to gather every Sunday for worship in hidden locations. The light of Christ has spread throughout the world and all people are gathered together in one faith worshiping one Lord.
Of course, we still have a long way to go to realize the vision of a world united in peace under our Savior Jesus Christ. There are still many people in the world who do not believe. There are still many who seek power and pleasure over peace and justice. There are still many living in poverty who have not experienced the love and generosity of people of faith. Just as the star drew the wise men to Bethlehem, we have to be the light drawing others to Christ. The light has to shine forth in our lives through our love, faith and good deeds so that the meaning of Jesus’ birth may become clear to everyone we meet.
Jesus came to save all people without distinction. He came to save the young and the old. He came to save the rich and the poor. He came to save the homeless and home builder. He came to save the sinner and the saint. There is no category of people we could imagine that would be excluded from the love of God. Whether it be race, nationality, sexual orientation or profession, all are called to the manger in Bethlehem to worship the Messiah.
We are called here today, as unworthy as we may be. We are gathered here to worship our Savior and dedicate our lives to knowing, loving and serving him. We will witness his love for us once again as the gifts we bring - bread and wine - are transformed into his Body and Blood. And we will be sent forth to bring the light of Christ from this place to all peoples.