Sunday, Jan. 5, is Epiphany Sunday. Four days earlier is Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a holy day of obligation.
Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7; Gospel: Luke 2:16-21.
Epiphany, Jan. 5: Sirach 24:1-4, 8-12; Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18; John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14.
The crèche scenes and other images we have of the shepherds and Wise Men kneeling together at the manger are not accurate, usually. But they are, in a way, this week.
They aren’t accurate because the shepherds and the Magi never visited the Holy Family at the same time.
On Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the Gospel describes the shepherds’ encounter: "The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger."
Then the Jan. 5 Epiphany reading describes the way the Magi see them in a house: "On entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary, his mother."
We are told that Mary ponders these things in her heart. What did she ponder? She might have noted that the Savior met the "outdoorsmen," the shepherds, in their own element — outdoors — and that the Magi met him in their element — indoors.
But the larger significance would be clear to her: This baby who came to her so mysteriously is the center of the world.
This is shown by several elements of the story. The presence of angels and the star show that there is a singular cosmic reaction to the arrival of this Child, while the presence of the mighty and the humble shows that there is a worldwide reaction.
There were no giant crowds at the Nativity, but there were representatives from the full spectrum of animate existence. Creatures, ranging from animals to angels, were there. Human society, ranging from the local riffraff to foreign intellectuals, responded. They were all converging not on a mighty player on the world stage, but on a silent infant in a feeding trough.
That an infant from an unknown family is the center of the world is a very strange thing, indeed. It only makes sense if he is Divine.
He is not interesting for what he has to say, but for who he is: He is God. That is what makes Mary the "Mother of God," who we celebrate Jan. 1. And that is what made the Three Kings seek him out on the Epiphany.
Jesus’ divinity is why his birth — not even his words or his works — already changed the world. He is the Light of the World.
The Divinity of Jesus brought signs and wonders to the world right away — and it also brought trouble: the massacre of the innocents, the plot by Herod, the flight of the Magi back home and the flight of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to Egypt.
The Divinity of Jesus still brings the same things: new light, fulfillment for people from all classes and places — and a lot of trouble.
He still inspires enemies who hate him and people who feel attracted to him and his family.
And he is still the center of the world, offering grace to those who go out of themselves to meet him.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.