from Bob Waldrop, on the Catholic Social Justice and Peace Discussion listserv this morning:
The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, AD 2007
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
Today at the offertory at Epiphany of the Lord parish in Oklahoma City, my choir sang these words from Handel’s Messiah. These words illuminate the mystery of Epiphany, the unveiling of the glory of God. The visit of the Magi. The descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God at the Baptism of the Lord. The miracle at Cana. The healing of the blind, the lame, and those possessed with demons. The Transfiguration.
Great stories, immortal, sacred, told from one generation to another. Though we "see through a glass darkly", every so often the glory of the Lord shines so bright that it breaks through the fog and confusion and illuminates all who behold it.
"And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
The narratives we hear at Mass are not all that has been or will be said about this glory.
"Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the LORD shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples, but upon you the LORD shines and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about, they all gather and come to you. Your sons come from afar and your daughters in the arms of their nurses. " [From Isaiah 60, the First Reading of Epiphany.]
Darkness surely covers the earth in our time. There can be no doubt of that. These days of the death and destruction are not easy to behold or experience. But it is as Gandalf said to Frodo, who wished that he lived in another time. "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
The shepherds saw the glory of Lord, and they "came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the baby laying in a manger." And when they had seen it, what did they do? "They made known abroad the saying which was told to them concerning this child. All they that heard it wondered at those things which were told to them by the shepherds." As well they might -- why did God gave this manifestation of his glory to poor shepherds? Why didn’t he tell the High Priest and the king? Or someone with wealth and credibility?
Well, actually, he did tell some with wealth, but they were foreigners. Maybe they had the proper visa, maybe they didn’t. Even so, the Magi saw the glory of the Lord shining as a star in the sky. They followed that glory, and brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Simeon and Anna recognized the holy Child instantly when brought to the Temple – "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."
It’s easy to become somewhat complacent about these stories. They happened a very long time ago. We don’t think this kind of thing happens anymore. Indeed, angels flying through the sky would hardly fit into the modern world. Someone might shoot at them with anti-aircraft missiles. NORAD would certainly sound the alert if squadrons of angels came flying over the borders. In reality, few would admit to seeing something as extraordinary as an angel in full flight, singing "Gloria in excelsis Deo!"
Well, actually, I have a confession to make. I see these angels all the time, and yes, they are in full flight and singing "Gloria in excelsis Deo!" and no, I am not on drugs nor am I drunk. I see them on our Catholic Worker delivery days, when they show up and in an amazing burst of celestial energy, prepare hundreds of bags of groceries to share with the poor. And then they fly them out the door and deliver them personally. Of course, they are disguised as people and they are driving cars, but they don’t fool me.
Curiously, they chant the Nicene Creed when they do this. At least it seems that way. The words seem to come alive or something. . . "He came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures. . . He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end."
So it comes to pass that I see angels shining with the Glory of God everywhere I go. Random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Works of mercy, justice and peace. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, comforting the afflicted and yes, also afflicting the comfortable. Making injustice visible, protecting the poor and the powerless, speaking truth to power – celebrating life, goodness, beauty, virtue, and joy – practicing peace, non-violence, servant leadership, harmony, community, voluntary cooperation, and the proper stewardship of God’s creation. They pray without ceasing and do what they can to ensure fair distribution, subsidiarity, economic opportunity, justice, and food security for everyone everywhere.
Yes, the world is dark and the news is grim. Turn on any television set and you can see the work of demons on a hundred channels, in technicolor and stereo surround sound. It was just as dark 2,000 years ago, but even so the shepherds went and told all what they had seen and heard. The shepherds found hope in the Epiphany of the Lord that came to them so long ago, a light so bright that it illumines us today, 2000 years and more later, and continues to manifest the glory of God in the lives of men and women across the planet.
"And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing that star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage."
In this year of grace two thousand and seven, let us be shepherds and Magi, Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph for all who cross our paths. Let us announce in word and deed that the Messiah indeed has come, and his glory shines for all to see. Let us help those who are blind to this glory to open their eyes so they can see, and open their ears so they can hear, the angelic vision unveiled for all. Where there is darkness, we will bring the glory of the Lord, and all flesh shall indeed see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.