Sunday, January 4, 2009

What will you give?

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD, January 4, 2009:

You may have noticed at the beginning of our Mass today that I wished everyone a Merry Christmas! Some of you may have thought - wait, Christmas was over a week ago. The reality is that in our Church calendar, we still find ourselves deep in the heart of Christmas. The problem is that the world has got Christmas all upside down. In the secular world Christmas begins sometime in late September as the first Christmas decorations and music begin to appear in stores. And then, it seems like at 12:01 a.m. on December 26th, it all disappears and Christmas is over and we've moved on to the next thing.

But, not so in our Church. In our liturgical calendar, we still have another week to go. The Christmas season goes all the way to the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord which we will celebrate next weekend. We need these weeks to really reflect upon the reality that God has actually come among us as one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now, on Christmas Day, I bet many of us were focussed on presents. We all get very excited about what gifts we may receive each Christmas. I know in talking to a lot of our young people that there seem to be a few things that are very popular this year. The Wii game system seems to be a big hit among all ages, along with other video games. I know a lot of little girls are very excited about American Girl dolls. I know those have been popular withe one of my nieces for a number of years.

For me, this year I was very excited to receive a great zoom lens for my camera and I can't wait to use it! At this time of year, my thoughts always go to a few of my favorite all-time presents. One was when I was about 10 years old. That year my brother and I really wanted Huffy dirtbikes. And, I remember the excitement of walking into the living room that Christmas morning and there they were! But, my most favorite memory of a childhood gift is one that I actually didn't receive. I was about 5 or 6 years old and that year I had asked Santa for a baby grand piano! Well, I woke up eagerly that morning and ran to the living room, but there was no piano there. Instead there was a letter and it was written to me and it was signed by Santa himself! It was even written on his letterhead. Santa had written to explain to me that a baby grand piano was a wonderful gift, but it simply would not fit on his sleigh; it was just too big.

Well, I was more excited about that letter than just about anything I can remember in life. Can you believe it? Santa wrote to me! He knows my name! I ran around with that letter for a very long time and treasured it.

Today's feast of the Epiphany is also a feast about presents. We commemorate the arrival of the three wise men, or kings, or magi, who came from afar, following a star to pay homage to the new born king. Tradition tells us that there names were Casper, Mehchior and Balthasar. And, they brougt gifts. They brought to Jesus the gifts of gold, frankinsence and myrrh.

Now, there is something special in these gifts. They are not random, but extremely meaningful. Each of these gifts show that the wise men actually recognize Jesus for who He is. The gold is a symbol of royalty, acknowledging that Jesus is in the royal line of David, destined to be the King of Kings. The frankinsence is a symbol of the priesthood and acknowledges that Jesus will be the True High Priest. And myrrh is a type of oil often used in anointing when someone has died, acknowledging that Jesus will die for our salvation. Each of these gifts are gifts of recognition - they recognize the divinity of Christ. This is the heart of Epiphany.

But, there is a difference between the gifts of Christmas Day and the gifts of Epiphany. Who received gifts on Christmas? You and me. Who receives the gifts today? Jesus does. And the gifts serve to reveal His true nature.

The feast of the Epiphany calls us to recognize Jesus in our midst - here in this church in each of us gathered in His Name; in His Word proclaimed; and in the greatest gift - His presence in the Eucharist we are about to receive.

But, this feast also begs another question of each of us - what will you give to Jesus this year?

One of my favorite adult Christmas experiences happened the first year I entered religious life as a Franciscan. We were each given a ministry - some of the guys worked at a local hospital making visits to the sick, some at an Asian immigrant center, others at a food pantry. I was assigned to a homeless shelter for young women and their children. These women were obviously in difficult situations, often situations of domestic violence and found themselves on the streets.

I was curious if they would be receiving anything for Christmas that year, and of course, the staff assured me they would. But, all of there presents would be practical. They would receive clothing, food, blankets and the like. All of course, good and necessary presents. But, I couldn't help but think that they should really receive something fun or personal or just for them.

When I went home for Thanksgiving that year, once the meal was done, I took up a collection among my family members (they were thrilled!). With that money, I had the chance to buy each mother something just for her and each child a toy. Nothing compares with the smiles on their faces as they opened something joyful for them on Christmas morning.

For me, those were presents that truly revealed the face of Christ to me. It was a moment of epiphany of the revelation of God's presence in our midst.

And so, what will you give to Jesus this year? It doesn't have to be dramatic, it can be very simple. It can be in the extra time we pledge for prayer each day. It can be in the simple ways we make an effort to be more joyful and patient to those around us. It can be by donating some of our money or better some of our time to reach out to those in need in our midst. It can be simply in any way that helps us reveal Christ more profoundly in our world.

And so, what will you give?

Merry Christmas and may God give you peace!

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