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By Another Way – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily January 2, 2022

“It’s kind of an epiphany tradition to announce the upcoming special dates to the liturgical year because Christmas always points toward the culmination of Jesus as incarnation, which is the passion, death and resurrection for it is by that action that we are saved. So we traditionally announce those dates. Not that you’re going to put them in your calendar or anything today, but that you just are aware of them. What is Epiphany? Traditionally celebrated on January 7th, although now they keep moving the dates around, it seems. But traditionally January 7th. Some of the world celebrates Christmas on that day. Russia, the Orthodox Church of Russia, celebrates Christmas on the 7th. For us Christians here in the West the feast of the epiphany marks the arrival of the Magi, these strange figures from the East the scriptures tell us. The definition of the word epiphany means to suddenly see or understand something in a new and very clear way, an illuminating discovery of sorts, a realization, we might say an aha moment. Liturgically, we commemorate the arrival of the Magi and the manifestation of who Jesus is to the world. The Magi, as I mentioned, represent the gentile world, non-Jews, and it reveals this light beyond the Jewish nation now, this light to be for the whole world. It announces, in many ways, the mission of Jesus.

The Prophet Isaiah from the first reading today said, ‘Rise up in splendor Jerusalem. Your light has come the glory of the Lord shines upon you.’ He goes on to say, ‘caravans from other places in the world will become bearing exotic gifts.’ It’s evidence that this light will come from Israel for the whole world. St. Paul, when he writes to the Ephesians says, ‘The mystery was made known to me by revelation that the gentiles are co-heirs, co-partners in the promise, that promise that was made to Abraham and his descendants, the promise made to the Jews. The good news is that you and I, I presume most of you are not Jewish, you and I are co-heirs to this promise. That’s what epiphany in many ways celebrates.

So who are these magi? Well, they’re kind of a strange mixture of astrologers and astronomers. We might see them as kind of stargazers, but in their day, it was considered a science. They were a priestly class, so there was a theological component to it. They weren’t Jews. They certainly weren’t Christians yet. Traditionally, they thought were thought to come from Persia, but more recent studies, maybe they came from as close as Petra, only a few days journey from Jerusalem. They watch the heavens for cosmic signs, and they believe that cosmic signs in the heavens reflected something happening here on Earth, in particular the birth of royalty. They brought gifts of gold often associated with kings, frankincense associated with worship or divinity, and myrrh used to anoint bodies kind of prophetic of Jesus as future. What are the takeaways from this? Well, it’s a sign of Christ universal mission, that he came for all. It’s  another thing it says science can begin the journey for us. They were scientists first, they were looking at the heavens. That’s where their journey began by looking at nature. St. Paul tells us that you can know there is a God just by looking at the world, just by looking at the world. You don’t need a revelation to tell you that there is a god. We can look around us at our creation and know that something is behind all of this. Just the other night, I was at some friends house, they just had a new baby girl and I was holding her in my arms and I just marveled at her beauty and the mystery of how she came to be. That can tell us that there is the God, and so often our search for God might start in the beauty of nature, in the mystery of a scientific pursuit. But it takes revelation to complete it. It takes revelation to tell us about this God that we know exists about who he is and it takes revelation for us to come to know him. When the Magi got to Jerusalem, the scriptures were opened for them and they heard about the prophecy of who this king might be. Their intellectual searching gave way, ultimately to surrender and adoration. They came kind of within an intellectual pursuit, but it didn’t end there. It ended with silence and falling to their knees in adoration. And finally, their encounter, this encounter with the Lord changed them. Remember St. Paul’s encounter? Remember his epiphany moment on the road to Damascus? He was getting on with life, thinking he was doing everything just right and all of a sudden he encountered the risen Lord Jesus. He’d never known him when Jesus walked the Earth, but he encountered him mystically and he fell to his knees and he was blinded. He was overwhelmed, and he heard the words, Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me? Saul realized that he needed to change. He realized that as he persecuted Christians, he was persecuting the Lord himself. He realized that Christ so closely identifies with believers that Paul would eventually call them the body of Christ. They were that closely united. Paul’s life was never the same after that day. He was forever changed. How about the Magi? They came and they encountered the Lord, they fell to their knees in adoration. They shared their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And then the scriptures said, and thank goodness you remember the last line of the gospel because it’s part of my homily. They went back to their home, by another way. They went back another way. Their life was changed.

When was your epiphany? When was your aha moment with God? Think back over your life. When did it happen? After the last mass, somebody came in the sacristy and gave me a very moving encounter or an explanation of their epiphany, how it happened to them. When was yours? Have you had one? Maybe some of you haven’t, especially younger ones, and this is an appropriate question to ponder, especially for our young people. Does science lead you to God, or does it lead you away from God? Good science should always lead you to God because there’s only one source of truth whether it’s found a religion or science. If it’s true religion and true science, it’s always the same. It leads you to God. Where do you seek revelation? Your journey might start with something natural. But where to the deeper questions get answered? Where do you seek revelation God’s self revealing of himself? In prayer? In silence? In the Scriptures? Sometimes it’s hard in our world to even quiet down enough to slow down enough to hear the Lord speak in our heart. Where do you seek revelation? And if you have encountered the Christ, in fact, we do every Sunday here at mass, in word and in sacrament when you do encounter the Christ, has that changed you? And do you now go back to life by another way? It should, it should.

But the Magi came, their journey started in a very natural way. They were gazing at the stars. They were marveling at God’s creation, but then they encountered revelation, they heard something deeper, deeper in their heart. And finally, when they encountered Christ, they couldn’t say anything. They just fell to their knees and worshiped, and they poured forth their gifts of gratitude and they went back to their lives, by another way. They were forever changed. Their story, my friends, is also our story. How are you seeking God? Have you had that epiphany? Does science lead you to or away from God? Where do you seek revelation? If you’ve encountered Christ, do you go back to your life now, by another way?”