User's Guide to Sunday, Jan. 3
Sunday, Jan. 3, is Epiphany Sunday (Year C).
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
The Epiphany readings are a prophecy of what will happen in the world.
More than 2,000 years later, it is worth asking: Did the predictions come true? When the Magi arrive in Jerusalem, they give one version of the prophecy of a king: “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Their prediction is backed up by the chief priests and scribes, who explain that from Bethlehem “shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
They are followed up by a third, fearful believer: King Herod believes a great king is coming, and he wants to destroy him. All of these predictions go back a long way, as we learn in the first reading. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!” says Isaiah. “Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance.” So … were these predictions right? Did a glorious king arise to rule the nations?
There are a couple of ways to look at it.
First, in the realm of spiritual warfare, the predictions certainly have come true. The Church has arisen from Jewish roots and has spread its light over all the earth, offering its sacraments — and through them forgiveness, reform and a doorway to heaven.
But what about the literal meaning of the words? Should the light of Christ bring a political change of some kind, too?
It should. As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “The lay faithful take part directly in political and social life by animating temporal realities with a Christian spirit and collaborating with all as authentic witnesses of the Gospel and agents of peace and justice” (519).
With the Church spread throughout the world, there should not just be more spiritual qualities in the world; there should be a greater degree of justice and solidarity, too.
And, thanks to Christianity, there is. It has happened throughout history. Tribal brutality was swept aside by the Christian religion, from Russia to Chile. Christianity has never been perfect politically — there have always been terrible failures. But the “Light to the Nations” that guided the Magi did spread justice and truth — and still does. Meanwhile, the waning of Christianity in the West has been accompanied by epidemic levels of STDs, abortion, pornography and crime.
That’s where we come in. In order for the revolution of Jesus Christ’s entry into the world to take hold, two things are necessary: our spiritual adherence to the sacraments and our adherence in political and social life to the principles of Christ.
The Letter to the Ephesians spells out the position we are in: “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
The world we find ourselves in is dark and violent, as dark and violent as occupied Jerusalem at the time of King Herod’s massacre of the innocents, and it is in this world that the light of Christ must rise.
It should rise in our lives.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April, his wife and in-house theologian and consultant, and their children.