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Epiphany – Year A

John Donne

was a famous writer in 17th century England.

One of his stories concerns a man

who was searching for God.

One day the hero of the story decided that

God must live on top of a high mountain

at the far end of the world.

And so he set out to climb it.

After a difficult and dangerous journey

through great forests and dense jungles,

the man arrives at the mountain.

As he stands there looking at it,

he sees that it is much steeper and higher

than he had ever dreamed.

But because he wants to find God

more than anything else,

he does not become discouraged.

Before beginning his climb

he decides that the best route

is by the east side.

The next morning at the crack of dawn

he begins his climb

up the east side of the mountain.

It so happens that about that time,

God who was indeed on top of the mountain,

begins to think to himself,

“I love my people so much,

to show them my great love,

I will descend the mountain

and live among the people as one of them.

So God studies all four sides of the mountain

and concludes that the best route down

is by the west side.

The next morning at the crack of dawn,

God begins his descent.

And so it happens,

that as the man is climbing up the east side

of the mountain,

God is climbing down the west side.

As luck would have it, the two pass

on opposite sides of the mountain.

When the man reaches the top of the mountain,

he finds it empty.

He falls down and begins to weep.

“Why should I go back down the mountain?” he asks.

There’s nothing there but poor people.

Why should I make the dangerous journey

back to my village?”

John Donne intended this story to be a parable

for the people of his time.

Many of them were searching for God.

When they couldn’t find him,

they decided that God didn’t even exist.

To these men and women Donne was saying

that God dwells among his people.

This is the great message of Christmas,

that God took up residence among his people

that is where we must look for him.

And that is where we will find him.

And this brings us 

to the feast of the Epiphany,

which we celebrate this Sunday.

The epiphany is a mystery of light,

symbolized by the star

that shone over Bethlehem.

The true source of light is Christ.

The divine plan was mysterious

as John explains in his gospel:

“The light came into the world,

but people loved the darkness rather than the light

because their deeds were wicked.” (John 3:19)

In the mystery of Christmas

Christ’s light first shines

on Mary and Joseph in Nazareth.

The light was also seen

by the shepherds of Bethlehem,

who rush to the Grotto. (Luke 2:12)

The shepherds

together with Mary and Joseph

represent the “remnant of Israel” –

those poor ones,

to whom the Good News was proclaimed.

Finally, Christ’s brightness shines out,

and reaches the Magi,

who are the first pagans,

to come to Christ.

The palaces of the rulers of Jerusalem

are left in the dark.

Moreover,

when this news is taken there,

it does not give rise to joy,

but to fear and hostile reactions.

The personal presence of Jesus here on earth

is the beginning

of the universal reconciliation

of the world to God.

Jesus is the ultimate destination of history.

The church is called

to make Christ’s light shine in the world.

Matthew’s gospel says to us:

“In the same way

your light must shine before all,

so that they may see goodness in your deeds

and give praise to your heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 5:16)

And here’s where John Donne’s story

helps us better understand

the two important lessons

of Christmas and today’s feast.

The first lesson

is that God has truly come down from heaven

to live among his people.

And the second lesson is

that the people among whom

he has chosen to live

were not temple dwellers.

They were not intellectuals in universities.

They were not kings in palaces.

Jesus chose to dwell among the poor,

among the homeless,

and among the hungry.

Let’s close with a poem that sums up

the message of Christmas in practical terms:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with the flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to feed the hungry,

to  release the prisoners,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among brothers and sisters,

to make music with the heart.” (Anonymous)

(with notes of Benedict XVI, on the Epiphany, circa 2008)

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