Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord

Is 60:1-6
Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13
Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2:1-12

One of the challenges to getting through the Christmas season is the amount of sickly sweet imagery that clings to the narrative of Jesus' birth.  These include images of a grinning newborn baby the size of a toddler and depictions of Mary dressed in blue and white watered silk encrusted with pearls and rhinestones.  Morbidly obese Santas, reindeer, and elf cards are beneath contempt. The images imposed on Jesus' birth are frequently painful and embarrassing.  Much too often we hear about  "The Magic of Christmas."  Or "Christmas is for Children."  Christmas is not a holiday primarily for children.  It is a holy day for all people of the world.

Christmas is not magic.  It is not a panacea for sorrow.  No one is required to be happy at Christmas.  Too often the sorrowful, the dying, and those who are struggling with the realities of life,  are told how they must surrender to the magic of Christmas so that they'll feel better.  Families, friends and neighbors of those grieving the death of another insist that a large dinner at someone's house will make all cares disappear, or, at the very least, begin what is called closure.  Closure is a made up word.  It is a pseudo-psychological concept. It does not exist. It does not occur. Unfortunately, Epiphany is not exempt from the gooey sweetness. 

Epiphany derives from the Greek:  epi:  forth and pheinein: to show.  Thus Epiphany:  to show forth.  Among the dictionary definitions of epiphany one finds, "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something, a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization."  The intuitive realization of Jesus as Messiah is the perfect description of this feast. It is an intuition symbolized by a star.  But, then there is the problem of "the kings." 

The word "kings" does not appear in Matthew's Gospel.  Those who bore the gifts are called magi.  Some translations use wise men.  No matter the translation, they were not monarchs.  The word kings came into use only around the sixth century. 

Matthew did not give a number, he simply used the plural. There could have been as few as two or many more than three.  Because the gifts were described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh, tradition holds that there were three magi.  Despite the tradition of Kasper, Melchior, and Balthazar their names are not listed in scripture. In the end, the number of magi, their names, and their kingly or non-kingly status, is an irrelevant distraction. 

However, the Magi are important. They are important because they represent the first Gentiles to worship Jesus.  They were the first Gentiles to recognize Jesus.  They were the first Gentiles to experience the sudden realization of the reality for which the world had long awaited.  Their epiphany was not exclusive then nor is it exclusive now.  We will hear of more epiphanies in the cycle of readings this liturgical year. There are many epiphanies scattered throughout our lives, if we are willing to notice them.

The reality of Christmas and Epiphany is found in a verse in today's Gospel. "When King Herod heard of this he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him." 

Herod's jealousy and the duplicity underlying his conversation with the magi gets closer to the reality of Christmas than do the lyrics of  "O Little Town of Bethlehem" or "We Three Kings of Orient Are."  We see the first shadow of the cross in Herod's evil desires.  We see the path from Bethlehem to Calvary in Herod's malevolence.  "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  This, from a crazed and cruel megalomaniac! 

The first reading from Isaiah assured Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord would shine upon her.  We hear echoes of the covenant, we hear echoes of God's promise to His people.  In the context of the prophecy from Isaiah, the reading from Ephesians is consoling because it assures the Gentiles that they are also included in the promise.  We are reminded of that inclusion daily in the word of consecration said over the wine:

"This is the chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal covenant
which will be poured out
for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." 

". . . for you and for many."

Once the word magic is forever disassociated from Christmas, we can begin to understand its true meaning.  Once the sloppy sentimentality is discarded, we can begin to comprehend the "Christmas story;" a story that did not end when the magi returned home, wherever that might have been. 

The best description of the meaning of Christmas did not come from an academic theologian. It came from an economist whose name is familiar to those of a certain age.  Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary general of the U.N., died in a still-mysterious plane crash in what was then Northern Rhodesia in 1961.  A small and irregularly kept journal was found in his apartment after his death.  He began keeping it at age 20.  He died at 58.  The entries are not dated. The journal has been in continuous print under the title: Markings. 

A number of the later entries are haiku, the Japanese poetic form limited to  twelve words with a total of seventeen syllables.  One of those haiku captures the entire meaning of Christmas.  There is nothing gooey, sticky, or treacly about it.  There is no magic in it.  It is not limited to children. It is for all people. It does not suggest a celebration of food, booze and consumer insanity.  It has nothing to do with a holiday.  It has everything to do with a holy day.

"On Christmas Eve Good Friday
was foretold them
in a trumpet fanfare."

We cannot separate the wood of the manger from the wood of the cross.

Neither event was magical.

The cold has been brain paralyzing.  If the temp hits 33 as predicted tomorrow it will be the first time in two weeks that it has gone above freezing.  This AM it was -4 F at 7:30.  Haven't gone outdoors with the camera in a while.  Not sure at what point there is a risk of damage.  The other problem is condensation forming on the glass surfaces when the camera comes in from extreme cold into a warm house though the house is not all that warm.  

Campion Center.  The decoration this year has ditched the colored lights in favor of clear.  Makes the photography a lot easier.  

The altar in the chapel in St. Mary's Hall Jesuit Residence set up as if for Mass.  It helps to have keys to get the off-hour shots.

Close-up photographs of Christmas ornaments is somewhat trite.  But it is fun.  Had to do a lot of processing to tone down the lights.  

Stained glass in the St. Mary's chapel.  The stained glass is terrific.  During one of the breaks I want to get permission to go in with a ladder so I can shoot straight ahead rather than looking up.  The chapel is narrow thus there is distortion.  I was able to correct this with the new processing program.  There are four windows all of which have this kind of exquisite detail. 

Looking through the metalwork between two plates of glass in the doors to the chapel from the main hallway. 

The creche with the light adjusted.  

The altar set for Mass.

A carved Madonna and Child.  It is not a large statue but it is lovely. 

Prepared for Mass.

An angled view of the altar.  I like the simplicity of the decor. 

Standing in the center at the back of the chapel. 

Every year the bakery at Boston College gives the Jesuit Community a gingerbread house.  This is not small.  About three feet from the apex of the roof to the "ground."  It is hard to avoid chomping on a chunk as I walk by. 

Some very good detail.  Like the BC insignia above the door.  These guys did a great job with scale.  Nothing is out of scale. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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