Blessed Sacrament Parish
Homily by Deacon Terry Ellerman
January 5, 2014 – The Epiphany of the Lord
10 AM Service
Gospel Mathew 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he 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.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
This morning we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, one of the oldest feasts in the church. A matter of fact: We have Easter, Pentecost, and the Epiphany. There were many years that Christmas was not the celebration per se. There are even some countries today where the big day is not Christmas, but Epiphany, and that’s the day they open the presents and that’s the day they do what they do.
So what is the Epiphany? Epiphany means “the manifestation of,” it means “an awareness of.” It is kind of an “ah-ha” experience. And what is this “ah-ha” experience? It is the birth of Jesus.
We see the three wise men coming to Bethlehem and they bring with them gifts, and these gifts are symbols of who this Jesus truly is: The gift of gold represents that he is truly a king, frankincense the fact that he is a priest, and myrrh the fact that he will die and suffer for us.
Mary Stone, who is the editor of “Give Us This Day,” a daily meditation, writes the story of her own life. She tells how, when she was in the fourth grade in Avon, Minnesota, in a Catholic grade school, that every week the priest would come in and ask questions and teach religion with them. They often saw Father Lawrence as a wise man, or a magi. They saw him that way because he was from the east, not the far east but about five miles east down the road from the school. They also saw him as one of the magi because he brought gifts, not of gold, frankincense and myrrh but in his pockets — his pockets were filled with quarters and every time a student got an answer right he or she was given a quarter.
Mary remembers a particular story. One day he came in and asked, “Who can spell Epiphany?”
A number of hands went up and Mary’s did, and she thought hers was higher but he did not call on her. So he went through a couple of different students and they didn’t know the answer so then he asked her, “Can you spell Epiphany?”
And so she did and spelled it E-P-I-P-H-A-N-Y. Father Lawrence had this great smile on his face and she was glowing from ear to ear and what did he do but reach in his pocket and give her a quarter. She was ecstatic about the whole thing. In fact, she was so happy she didn’t hear any of the rest of the lesson because all she could think about was, “When school is out I am going to take this quarter across the street to the local grocery store and go to the candy counter, and get all this candy, eat one piece and then take it home and hoard it and eat it during the rest of the week.” And that’s what she did.
Later, as she grew older, she thought, “You know, after I got the quarter I missed the rest of the lesson and I wonder what he said the Epiphany was about.” After she thought about it she came up with, “The Epiphany, yes, is the realization that Jesus is the light and the love of God.” And we all know that. So it isn’t an Epiphany for us today, but it was for the world during the time that Jesus was born.
But, you know, we all have Epiphanies, hopefully, every day and maybe more than once a day. Because through our baptism we have been given the light of Christ. And we are to be the light and love of Christ to one another.
So the question is, “Do we recognize the light and love of Christ in ourselves, and in each other?”
We are all special. God made each one of us different and he has given us talents for us to use. He wants us to use them to the best of our abilities. Sometimes it may be difficult to figure out what those talents are. Some of you, because we have offered this within the last couple of years, took “Living Your Strengths.” The book, “Living Your Strengths,” gives us an opportunity for us to look at ourselves and ask:
What are some of the natural gifts that God has given me?
Am I using those gifts?
Can I use those gifts better?
Do we see those gifts in each other?
At every Parish Council meeting at Blessed Sacrament, each person’s five strengths, as determined from the book, are placed on a card before each member. The purpose of this is to always be aware of not only the gifts that we have, but also the gifts that other people have. Because if we are to have the Kingdom of God here on earth it means that we need to use our strengths as effectively as we can. If you haven’t taken “Living Your Strengths,” and there have been 70-some people in the parish who have, it will be offered again at the end of the month. So you might look at the bulletin and sign up because I think you will enjoy it.
The Epiphany is not only the appreciation of Jesus being born and who he was, but the appreciation of each other as well. As Mary Stone thought about her spelling the word Epiphany she wrote, “If I could go back and do this over and the priest asked me to spell Epiphany again, I would spell — Father Lawrence,” or in our case here, we would spell — Father Mike. Because truly they are people who shed their light on us, their love on us, their faith on us and make us different people.
I look around at the congregation and I don’t know all of your gifts. I think if we thought about it, we could look at Steve Buckman, wherever Steve happens to be, and I don’t think there is any question that we know one of his gifts. I am sure he has many others. But when we listen to the music he plays, he does it so well and he does it so effortlessly because it is a natural gift of who he is. We look at the choir and listen to them sing, again natural gifts they have and the members come here to praise God and share that gift with us.
So today as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany we are looking at not only appreciation to God for sending Jesus into this world, which is wonderful because it is that light that has been brought into our darkness to give us salvation. But we also need to look at ourselves, and each other, and ask, “What is the light, and what is the gift that each one of us has that we either share at this point, or maybe should share in the future. Because truly life is about sharing God’s love with each other.
So, as we celebrate this feast of the Epiphany, where are we in regards to the gifts that we have, the light that we have, and are we shining those as brightly as we might?
* * *
Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.