(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Mass-Blog-for-the-Epiphany-of-the-Lord-2022.mp3)
We sing of Bethlehem as that “little town” where Jesus was born. This Sunday’s first reading (Is 60:1-6) adds even more to its strategic importance:
The riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.
Today that region is also known as the birthplace of religious and territorial tension between Jews and Arabs. Bethlehem is home to much poverty. But when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his parents’ hometown of Nazareth was even lower on the respect scale. Then he entered public life, and Jesus of Nazareth became as much a slur by enemies as a cry for help among those who knew his true royalty (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” Nathaniel asked Philip (John 1:45–46.)
The answer to that question is a continuing epiphany for our modern world. It is continuously born in the hearts of new believers. Amidst the continuing geographic and political tensions that persist in that region, our spirit is called to rise above them as we hear Paul explain the grace of God that makes such resurrection possible (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6):
The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Yet those who continue to see the Holy Land as just that—land—share the same spirit of jealousy King Herod had when he saw that wise men were seeking a leader who would take them beyond land borders to a kingdom where love was the only passport necessary.
Sunday’s gospel reading (Mt 2:1-12) shows us how that desire for landlocked greatness affected the earthbound Herod. He was lost in his own backyard and had no clue where his perceived rival was hiding. Turned out, it was in plain sight.
[Herod] was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
You and I are of that vast flock. It knows no bounds, but we’re not lost sheep. Still, the earthbound spirit of King Herod continues to live in the hearts of world’s unshepherded sheep—those of us still unable to conceive that divinity could reveal itself in such a humble way. We are called to be a never-ending epiphany of God’s grace for lost souls such as those.