Jesus’ Birth Revealed to the Nations because Jesus is Savior of All

Homily for January 6th - The Epiphany of Our Lord

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Some scholars have tried to show that there was indeed a special “Star of Bethlehem.” Michael Molnar in his book The Star of Bethlehem: the legacy of the Magi and David Hughes in his book The Star of Bethlehem: an Astronomer’s Confirmation have researched extraordinary celestial conditions that could account for the Star of Bethlehem. Many documents and archeological finds prove the historical reliability of events and people related in the Bible. The most important thing for us is the meaning of Sacred Scripture for us and so today I would like to reflect on the meaning of the visit of the Magi to Jesus.

The wise men or magi were not Jews, they may have been priests of a pagan eastern religion. Anyone who is not a Jew is a Gentile; the magi were Gentiles, just as we are Gentiles. It is interesting that God revealed the birth of the “newborn king of the Jews” to men who were not Jews. We might have expected God to reveal the birth of Jesus to his own Jewish people, but no, it was to people of a different religion and race that God revealed the birth of Jesus. God chose to reveal the birth of Jesus to Gentiles. As our opening prayer today states,

“Father, you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.”

The preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today states,

“Today you revealed in Christ your eternal plan of salvation
and showed him as the light of all peoples.

Because Jesus came to save the whole world and not just his own Jewish Chosen People, God in his mercy chose to reveal the birth of Jesus “to the nations.”

The visit of the Magi which we have read today is in Matthew’s Gospel but Luke makes the same point in a different way. In Luke a vision of angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds (Luke 2:8-14). The shepherds were Jews but they were the lowest in society at that time. Of course everyone has equal dignity before God but society does not often reflect God’s value of the human person and so the poor shepherds were away down there. But God chose them to be the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth in Luke. Then in the temple Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be

“a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)

So Simeon was saying Jesus would be light to the non-Jews, us Gentiles, and glory for Israel. So both Matthew and Luke each show in different ways that at the birth of Jesus God revealed that this baby was for the salvation of the whole world.

Therefore our second reading today from the Letter to the Ephesians states,

“It was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:5-6)

Also our Psalm today, which we may see as a prophecy of Jesus, describes the whole world adoring God, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you” It refers to kings all over the world offering gifts and the Lord’s kingdom stretching from sea to sea, covering the whole world.

The revelation of the birth of Jesus to the magi in Matthew’s Gospel and to the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel reminds us of the many times during his ministry that Jesus made bridges and reached out to those who were looked down upon. God reaching out to others at Jesus’ birth did not just stop then and wait again until the Church spread around the world after Pentecost. No, all during his ministry Jesus was making efforts to reach out to and include those who were rejected by society at that time. Luke especially shows this and during this year (2007) it is Luke’s Gospel we will read on Sundays.

  • Jesus reached out to tax-collectors. Even though the tax collectors in Palestine were Jews they were hated by their fellow Jews because they worked for a foreign Gentile nation (Rome) passed on to the headquarters in Rome only a fraction of the taxes they collected every year.

    • One of the disciples whom Jesus called to follow him is Levi (Luke 5:27-29; Mark 2:13-15), who is called Matthew in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 9:9-10). Levi offered Jesus a feast in his house and the guests included a large crowd of tax collectors (Luke 5:29).

    • In Jericho Jesus met with Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector so therefore regarded as an even bigger sinner than Levi/Matthew. Jesus stayed at least one night in his house (Luke 19:7) and Zacchaeus converted.

  • Jesus reached out to sinners.

    • In Luke 7 a sinner woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair and Jesus contrasted her with the lack of welcome he received from the Pharisee who was hosting the meal

    • Luke in chapter 15 tells us the reason Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost/prodigal son was to defend his himself because he was criticized by the Pharisees and scribes for welcoming sinners and tax-collectors.

  • Jesus reached out to Samaritans. The Samaritans were seriously looked down upon by the Jews at that time and there was constant friction between Jews and Samaritans.

    • Jesus wanted to visit the Samaritans on his way south from Galilee to Jerusalem but they did not welcome him (because of the enmity between Samaritans and Jews; Luke 9:51-52).

    • Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan in which the one who shows himself to be a good neighbor is the Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35).

    • On another occasion Jesus healed ten lepers. Nine were Jews and one a Samaritan. Only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus (Luke 17:16)

  • Centurions in the Roman army were not Jews, they had been deployed in Palestine by Rome.

    • A centurion whose servant was ill came to Jesus. He did not want to trouble Jesus to come to his house so he asked Jesus to just give the word and his servant would be healed. Jesus responded, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9) A foreigner who was not even one of the Chosen People was held up by Jesus as an example of faith.

    • When Jesus died on the cross a centurion nearby glorified God and declared, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” Although Jesus had been rejected by his own people a Gentile recognized him for who he was.

We might ask, “What has all of this to do with us? We have been blessed because we are already in the Church.” Jesus’ ministry challenges us to ask ourselves how we view others. Do we need to allow our thinking about others to be converted? One of the most challenging aspects of following Jesus is seeing his presence in others. On many days that is precisely what taking up our cross means, trying to see his presence in others when it is not so obvious. But it is wonderful to think of God’s love for all people and that in turn helps us to love and respect others.

We might also ask, “What has God reaching out to others got to do with the ministry of the Church?” As a Church in many ways we try to reach out to those who are on the margins. In many ways the Church is ministering to Latinos and others in this country. Just think of the many priests and others who work in the Church who have learned Spanish to minister to others. And in this country Masses are celebrated in many languages every weekend. Jesus reached out to others and so the Church which continues the ministry of Jesus wants to do the same and feels obligated to do so. The church also offers support groups of all kinds for people dealing with all kinds of difficult issues. The Church tries to continue the ministry of Jesus by offering support to all peoples in whatever way she can.

We might have expected God to reveal the birth of Jesus to his own Jewish people, but no, it was to people of a different religion and race that God revealed the birth of Jesus. Because Jesus came to save the whole world and not just his own Jewish Chosen People, God in his mercy chose to reveal the birth of Jesus “to the nations” and all during his ministry he reached out to all those on the margins. I conclude with some the prayers of today’s Mass; the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer…

“Today you revealed in Christ your eternal plan of salvation
and showed him as the light of all peoples.”

The opening prayer…

“Father, you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven
by the light of faith”

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for January 6th - The Epiphany of Our Lord

Baby Jesus, the Wise Men and Herod (also in mp3 meditation reduced quality for 56k modems)

From star reading, horoscopes and astrology, to worshiping Jesus

The Events of the Epiphany played out Today 2013

stories for Christmas