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God's Word on Sunday: God’s mercy shines, even in tough times

  • December 27, 2020

Epiphany of the Lord (Year B) Jan. 3 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

Most people will be more than happy to see 2020 growing smaller in the rearview mirror. It has been long, hard and painful and brought disease, death, financial hardship and loss of human community. It seemed at times that it would never end, and in fact, it has not. We have a long road ahead of us.

Add to that the world’s bitterness, hatred and division and the environmental crisis. We have all the ingredients for pessimism and gloom. But that is not Isaiah’s response, nor should it be ours. Indeed, darkness does seem to cover the Earth and that must be acknowledged. But the prophet insists this is merely the prelude to the irruption of God’s light and glory into our world and experience.

The prophecy was originally given to the people of Judah following the return from exile in the mid-sixth century B.C., but since God’s mercy, love and grace do not change, it applies equally to us. God’s Spirit is life giving and healing. Regardless of the disasters the world or human sin creates, God will always have the last word, and that word is “life.” It is especially important during these difficult times for people of faith to keep hope, gratitude and joy alive and visible. This is the greatest testimony that we can give to God and the one that will have a profound effect on the world. It is not the time for doom and gloom or wild apocalyptic “prophecies.” Fear and selfishness are not fitting responses, and thankfully many have responded with incredible kindness and generosity. The light and glory of the Lord are indeed coming but must be welcomed and embraced. Conversion of heart is necessary for all peoples, especially if we want to experience the new reality portrayed in the prophecy. There is but one Earth and one human family. Nothing that divides, excludes or enslaves is from God.

The Letter to the Ephesians rejoices in the incredible generosity and mercy of God. The inclusion of all peoples was God’s plan from the beginning, and with the coming of Jesus, it was revealed to the world. This same unifying will of God is at work today, but it faces much opposition. Many people fear embracing the “other” and desire to build walls rather than bridges.

The magi from the east were men of wisdom, openness and spiritual perception. They looked beyond the borders of their own culture and religion for the telltale signs of God. They set no limits to their searching minds and hearts. The light in the heavens was a sign of a momentous event on Earth, so they set out on their long and perilous journey. But they had to deal with Herod, one ruled by fear and murderous rages. He sensed only a loss of power and prestige. Herod has many counterparts in our own world. But they would not be hindered in their mission. They did homage to the newborn Jesus and presented royal gifts that echoed the promise in Isaiah’s prophecy. God’s light and glory had definitely broken into the world.

When we encounter the Lord, our lives are never the same, and this applied to the magi. They took the divine warning to heart and returned to their country by another route, in both a literal and figurative sense. They were able to find the light that was beginning to shine into the darkness because they did not allow the world’s darkness to take possession of them and define their existence. With their own inner vision, they looked up to the heavens, and were able to perceive the first rays of a new dawn for the world. Perhaps in the coming year we can focus more on the ways of God and God’s mercy and grace rather than the tsunami of negativity brought to us by the media and by fearful human responses to life.