Sunday Sermon for January 6, 2013, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Year C

Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:2-12

In the first reading today Isaiah calls Jerusalem to rise because her light had come and the glory of the Lord would be shining upon her. In the context of today’s feast one might think that this light is referring to the star which the magi followed to Jerusalem and, ultimately, to Bethlehem. However, that cannot be the case since it is clear in the next lines that this light would not be brief. Isaiah says that nations will walk by the light of Jerusalem and kings by its shining radiance.

This suggests a more long term radiance that is not from a star, but from a person. In this case, the light of the star merely serves as a sign of the true light that had now come into the world. The holy man, Simeon, at the time of the Presentation exclaimed that the Child would be a light to the nations and the glory of Israel. While we could make a case for the light mentioned in Isaiah referring to truth, teaching, charity or any other possibility, ask yourself if Jesus is not all of these things.

Isaiah says in another passage that the Word of the Lord would go forth from Jerusalem and that many peoples would stream to her to go up to worship the Lord and receive His Word. This is certainly prefigured by the wise men who represent the nations of the world. Not only do they find the newborn King of the Jews for Whom they were looking, but they also found the Word of God made flesh and, as we hear in the Gospel, they bowed down and worshiped Him.

The glorious part about the Epiphany is that God fulfilled what He had revealed but had not been understood prior to St. Paul coming to understand the mystery of the Gentiles being co-heirs with the Jews and members of the same body. Naturally, the Jewish people would have understood that the Gentiles would become Jews; instead, all are incorporated into the Lord Who fulfills everything God had promised to the people of Israel. Now they and the Gentiles would be one in Christ.

At the time our Lord came into the world the darkness of ignorance, war, and hatred covered the earth and the clouds of confusion blinded people to the truth. This was true not only of the Gentiles, but also of Israel itself. We are told in the Gospel reading that when the Magi came seeking the Lord that not only was Herod troubled, but all Jerusalem with Him. The people did not want the One Who came to set them free. It was into this kind of darkness that Jesus came and shone as a light in the darkness and as a focal point to give clarity and direction by piercing through the fog. Tragically, St. John tells us that the light came into the darkness, but people preferred the darkness because their deeds were evil.

We live in a world that is in many ways similar to the times of Jesus. We tend to think of our world as being enlightened, but the reality is that the world has been enveloped in darkness. We are certainly very advanced if one looks at things from the perspective of technology. But from the perspective of truth and morality we have plunged into a very deep darkness. This being the case, it causes us to look at the same issues as mentioned above and ask some questions of ourselves in this regard.

As the Magi came to adore the Lord, so we are seeing some startling conversions to the Church while, at the same time, many are falling away. Jesus warned the Pharisees that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the Kingdom of Heaven but the Pharisees were not. The Pharisees are not the ones who had abandoned the faith; instead, they sold out for something less than the truth: political gain, power, money, compromise. Have we fallen into any of these traps and watered down the truth of our Lord?

The people of Jerusalem were troubled when they heard of the birth of the Messiah. Do we really want Jesus? Is He really the center of our lives or have we relegated Him and the practice of our faith to the periphery? So many want to give lip service to our Lord or go to Mass in order to appease their conscience, but they do not want to humble themselves to be obedient to Him, trust Him, and worship Him is spirit and in truth.

Our Lord is manifesting Himself as the light of truth and the beacon of hope in our hearts and in our world. The world has chosen darkness, but the wise seek Him out, find true enlightenment, and worship Him.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit