(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Mass-Blog-for-the-Epiphany-2023.mp3)
For the world’s most powerful governments, Jesus raised their estimation of Bethlehem and Nazareth from little nothings to great threats. The threat came from many of the citizens of those nothing towns, whom Jesus freed from human laws so they could promote God’s. Chief among those laws are love and forgiveness, which Rome valued about as poorly as they did anyone who gave those virtues priority. Jesus put both of those values on our spiritual map as capitals of God’s Kingdom.
But even among Jesus’s future disciples, their master’s hometown was a hole (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?,” Nathanael asks in John 1:46). In their time, Nazareth and Bethlehem were the political world’s equivalents of sitcoms—hardly taken seriously. Yet those wise individuals who long ago bothered to track Jesus’s origins also found the truth he made our faith’s bedrock. Dick Van Dyke inspired in my family an unusual route to this truth.
Our family binge-watched episodes of The Dick Van Dyke show the other night (courtesy of a DVD box set from a Christmas Past). From this 60s sitcom, our son Marty found an ancient gift buried in his family’s Christmas Present: an epiphany.
In this episode (“Bad Reception in Albany”), Rob and his wife Laura travel from suburban New Rochelle all the way upstate to Albany for a wedding in her family. They are in the wedding party, and attire is formal. Unfortunately, Rob is delayed by a job-related snafu at their hotel, and in the confusion, his tux is ruined—forcing him to borrow a tux jacket from a guy attending a convention of the Fraternal Order of Seals (whose mascot is the kind of seal with flippers), being held at the same hotel. The furry tux jacket Rob ends up wearing to the wedding has a boutonniere that, unbeknownst to Rob, squirts water when you move your arm a certain way. Of course, not only does he arrive late to the wedding, but while apologizing to the bride, he accidentally squirts her—and his own wife.
All ends well because the bride was just so happy Rob and Laura made the trip for her, and Laura was happy the bride was happy. Not only did the bride and Laura forgive Rob, but so did the maintenance man back at their hotel whom Rob almost electrocuted while the man was repairing their TV (told you this episode was convoluted). Nevertheless, as the credits for this convoluted sitcom episode rolled, our Marty shared the epiphany that hit him directly in the heart:
“Forgive and you’ll be forgiven.” (Matthew 6:14).
Of course, God’s forgiveness is the reason for the Christmas season, and as Paul tells the Ephesians in the second reading for this feast of the Epiphany, ALL people are invited to be “co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6) And, again from Matthew’s gospel (Mt 2:1-12) comes another epiphany about that little geographic hole from which radiated the truth proclaimed by the prophet Micah (5:1):
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.”
This truth from a little nothing of an ancient suburb is aimed at all world citizens, Isaiah tells us:
Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. (Is 60:1-6)
The miracle of Christmas is that God’s light can come from sources you least expect to shine it. That truth’s worth reflecting on.