Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Epiphnay of the Lord

Now we are in January. The name ‘January’ refers to the old roman god ‘Janus’ who stands at the door of year looking forward and back. It is a time when we reflect on the past year and look forward to the coming year. This year, for many people in our city and throughout the world is a moment of foreboding, as we wonder how the financial situation will affect our lives. Will it be a new year of prosperity, or of hardship?

The new year begins also with the feast of the Epiphany. Let’s concentrate on this - because it will give some purpose to our reflection as we begin this year.

Everyone knows that the day celebrated the coming of the wise men, the kings, the magi, to the child Jesus. It is the celebration of a long and hard journey, which ends with the revelation of Truth himself.

When the magi arrive they find an ordinary house and an ordinary family - not so different from ours - and the house is blessed by their arrival, and their worship, and their gifts: the splendour of gold for a king, the luxury of frankincense for worship and the tenderness of myrrh for burial. The gifts express both hope and anxiety for the future.

And - now here’s the strange thing - that ordinary house is actually blessed not by the visitors, but by the one they visit. The blessing is received not by the the host, but by the guests. The real gifts are received not by the family, but by those who give. The Truth is revealed not to those who receive the message, but to those who carry it.

In a way this visit of the wise men is a model of all human worship of God, and indeed a model of what it means to have faith. We praise and bless him, yet we are the ones who receive his blessing. We bring gifts to offer to him - yet we are the ones who receive the gifts of his grace. The host receives us into his presence, yet it we who receive the host.

At the end of mass today there will be the traditional blessing of chalk which we shall use to bless our houses. The number of the year indicates a prayer for God’s blessing as this year begins. The letters C M B refer to the three travellers who visited the holy house – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – but also are the initials of the latin words “Christus mansionem benedicat.” “May Christ bless the house.”

As we begin a new year let us bring all our hopes and anxieties to him. In a way these are our gifts - Gold for hope, Myrhh for our worries, Frankincense for our prayer. We cannot forsee or predict what will happen. But we can bring our hopes and concerns before him, and he will give us strength.

May Christ bless our houses, our homes, our families, and our lives, now and for ever.

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