This reflection is from Pax Christi USA’s Advent reflection booklet, Be Watchful and Alert — Seek God’s Spirit in Our World: Reflections for Advent 2008, by Sr. Jamie T. Phelps, OP, Ph.D. Sr. Jamie is an American Catholic theologian and author, known for her contributions to womanist theology.
reflection for epiphany sunday, january 3, 2021
by Sr. Jamie T. Phelps, OP, Ph.D.
Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of Yahweh shines upon you.
… Upon you Yahweh shines, and over you appears God’s glory. (Is 60:1-2)
The readings for the feast of the Epiphany record the manifestation of God in three distinct periods of Judeo-Christian history. Isaiah 60 speaks of God’s presence as celebrated during the post-exilic period; Matthew 2 focuses on God’s incarnational presence as celebrated by the three Magi; and Ephesians 3 speaks of God’s presence in the early Church. The common theme in all three readings is God’s universal promise and call to salvation.
The deliverance of the Israelites from exile stirs Third Isaiah’s (chs. 56-66) optimism. He repeats the belief that Israel is to be a light to all nations. Seeing how Israel has prospered, many “sons and daughters from afar will gather around her bringing her gifts” and “proclaiming the praises of God” (Is 60:4, 6).
Matthew’s gospel continues the nativity narrative and speaks of the Magi (i.e. wise men) coming from the East in search of a “newborn King of the Jews”. What was good news for the Magi was the source of “trouble” for Herod and a matter of little significance for the “chief priests and scribes”. Herod’s enthusiasm is perhaps curtailed by his own ambitions and the notion that a “newborn King” would rival his own power and authority. Only the outsiders responded enthusiastically to the news of a King whose birth has been accompanied by special astrological signs. Finding Jesus, these seekers pay homage, give gifts, and return to their homeland secretly.
Paul interprets these events in a way that is significant as he spreads the Good News beyond the Israelites at the beginning of the Christian era: “It has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:5-6).
The Jewish followers of Jesus are to welcome the Gentiles as full members of this nascent Christian community or church. The Second Vatican Council affirms this universal mission of the Church in the opening chapters of its “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Lumen Gentium:
Christ is the Light of nations … this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, (1) to bring the light of Christ to all, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race…”Lumen Gentium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November 21, 1964
PRAYER: God our Father and Mother, imbued by the power of your spirit and liberated by the redmptive life and death of Jesus, help us welcome into our community and church all peoples, regardless of race, gender, class, culture or nationality. You have enriched each person and each culture with gifts and talents to be shared for the common good. Help us to recognize your presence and action in all your sons and daughters. Help us continue as a people of faith, hope, and love as we prepare to receive the gift of your Reign.