Well it’s a new year, and of course every new year is filled with promise or hope for what it might bring. This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. The gospel story this weekend is filled with drama, as the newborn Christ child is visited by “magi from the east” who come to do him homage. We have the beautiful scene of the newborn child with Joseph and Mary, and the magi, all in this setting in Bethlehem. In our imagination it’s a beautiful and peaceful scene, yet even still there’s a shadow that hovers over the scene, as King Herod back in Jerusalem is alarmed at the thought of a new, perhaps rival king, being born in the hinterlands. Right from the beginning, the news of a Savior born in our midst, of God “pitching his tent” among humanity, we see that this newborn child is already under the shadow of death. King Herod, fearful of this rival newborn king, orders all the boys under the age of two to be killed – a day we remember as the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
The story tells us that the Holy Family flees to Egypt, an echo in Matthew’s gospel of the story of the Exodus, and of God’s promise to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Matthew, in his gospel, does this on purpose – he knows his audience, an early community of Christians with deep Jewish roots, and so this community would now see in the story of Jesus a kind of new Moses, as the one who would lead the people out of slavery (slavery to sin, slavery to whatever keeps people from being fully human and engaged in life) to a Promised Land. In the case of the Israelites, it was across the Red Sea to a new land which we now know as Palestine. In the case of Jesus, it’s a picture or an image of a “reign of God,” an image which Jesus himself, in his earthly ministry, reveals through his presence, his miracles, his actions among people. The reign of God is simply how the world looks in God’s image – images of enough food for everyone, of enemies reconciling, of the sick and suffering made well, of those worn down by life lifted up and reminded of their human dignity. In Jesus, the reign of God is made present, and it remains both here and not here, both now and yet to come. We wait in hope.
Herod stands as a reminder that fear and terror exist in the world and can often seem to overshadow everything. The newborn Christ child is fragile and vulnerable. Doesn’t it seem that sometimes, that’s the way of the world? Herod still exists in our own day, in one form or another. Violence and vengeance seem to rule the day. And yet the reign of God promises something else. The reign of God was foretold by the prophets and fulfilled by Christ. It’s a statement that, even among the terror and violence of our day, what is more powerful is the power of self-giving love, as revealed by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
On another note, I have exciting news: In response to parishioner requests and to make it easier for you to support our parish and the important ministries we provide, the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi is partnering with Faith Direct – the leading eGiving program for Catholic churches all across the country.
Beginning the weekend of January 18, you will be able make all of your contributions to St. Francis of Assisi through Faith Direct via automatic payment from your checking account or credit card – just as you may do now with your mortgage, household bills, and other monthly payments. See more on page 7 of the bulletin.
A blessed and happy new year to all!