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The Epiphany of the Lord – Homily

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12
January 4, 2015

It’s Christmas!  Well, it’s not Christmas day but we celebrate the Season of Christmas until the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on January 11th this year.

Christmas is about the birth, the incarnation of our Lord Jesus.  He came into the world to save people but who did He come to save?

The scriptures make it clear that Mary and Joseph were good practicing Jews.  Jesus was first visited the shepherds and then seen by Simeon and Anna in the temple.  Without a doubt Simeon and Anna were faithful and practicing Jews.

It would be no surprise to the Jews that the first to see Jesus would be Jews.  After all, they were a chosen people, or as they saw it a privileged people.

Today we hear of the Baby Jesus receiving more visitors, the magi from the east.  They travel a great distant to see the newborn king of the Jews to do him homage.  The thing is they aren’t Jewish.  Why would they bother to travel to see Jesus then?  Their hearts must have been open to what was happening.

If this is how Gentiles respond, one would imagine the Jews would be absolutely thrilled at the birth of their new king.  Yet many were troubled by the news of the birth of the new king.  Among them was King Herod.  He was a Jew by ancestry but he didn’t really practice his faith.  So, instead of rejoicing at the news of the birth of a new king for the Jews, he plots to have Jesus killed because he is a threat to Herod’s kingship.

As I already said, the Jews saw themselves as a chosen people and they were.  They also saw themselves as an exclusive people to receive salvation.

The visit of the Magi serves to show that Jesus comes not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.  As Paul writes, the Gentiles are to be co-heirs with the Jews for the gift of salvation

Really this was not new.  Look at what Isaiah says.  He speaks of the light the people receive, fulfilled for us in Jesus’ birth.  Isaiah speaks of the people radiating the light such that “Nations shall walk by your light.”  It doesn’t say nation.  It says nations, plural.  600 years before the birth of Jesus the Jews were being told that all are to receive the light God offers but they continued to see themselves as an exclusive people.

So what does our Church teach today about who gets to be saved?

For centuries the Catholic Church has spoken about no salvation outside the church.  For a long time this was interpreted to mean that Protestants couldn’t get into Heaven.  The feeling was mutual in many cases as many Protestants thought Catholics had it all wrong.

Now, for many the pendulum has swung the other way so if you believe in Jesus, it doesn’t matter what denomination you are.

What does our Catholic Church say today?  Certainly, we believe that our Church has heart of the faith but that other denominations had “portions” of the truth of our faith so that salvation is possible for them.  The documents of the Second Vatican Council go so far as to recognize that the Jews and the Muslims believe in the same God, even if they have some very different beliefs.

What about other faiths or no faith?  We are to share what we know about Jesus but then to leave it in the hands of God who knows what is the desire of their hearts.

Salvation is offered to all.  We need to let others know about Jesus but then it is their choice to accept the gift of salvation.

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