Readings for Epiphany Sunday: Is. 60:1-6; Ps. 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Eph. 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt. 2: 1-12
Over the past four years, we've heard repeated ad nauseum:
- Make America great again!"
- "God bless America - land of the free and home of the brave!"
- American Exceptionalism.
- "U.S.A., U.S.A.!"
- "America's the greatest country in the world."
- "America's the world's indispensable nation."
- Colin Kaepernick and others should stand for the national anthem.
Additionally (and poignantly on this Epiphany Sunday and its celebration of "Wisemen") our "leaders" have decided to ignore the world's best and wisest minds by rejecting climate science and its warning about the greatest threat the human race has ever faced.
None of this is new, of course. Hyper-patriotism and rejection of wisdom have been the order of the day for much longer than the duration of the Trump presidency.
And it has its religious dimension as well: it's as if American Christians actually believe that God is somehow opposed to the order of creation that S/he allegedly authored. It is as if S/he loves Christians more than Syrians, Mexicans, Iraqis, or Ethiopians. It's as if God prefers Christians to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Jews.
Witness Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's disgraced and recently pardoned National Security Advisor. He once described Islam itself and its 1.7 billion followers as a "vicious cancer" that has to be excised. In Flynn's little mind, the wisdom of that Great Religion is completely ignored.
Even "liberals" like comedian, Bill Maher, are not far behind Flynn in their vilification of Muslims.
Ignored in all of this is the fact that the famous "Three Wise Men" of Matthew's well-known parable were probably the ancestors of Arabia's Muslims. In any case, they had a much broader understanding of God and the cosmos than Yeshua's own people. For sure, Judaea's King Herod shared Flynn's and Maher's constricted views of their seekers' mentality as dangerously malignant.
The message of today's celebration of Jesus' Epiphany contradicts everything I've just described - the hyper-patriotism, the rejection of science, the othering of foreigners, and any attempt to fit the divine into narrow religious categories.
Today's readings challenge Yeshua-followers to grow up - to transcend our blind ethnocentrism, expand our horizons, recognize the immensity of the Life Force some call "God," and at last become citizens of the world.
Remember: the word "epiphany" means the appearance or manifestation of God - a revelation of who God really is. Accordingly, today's feast recalls the time when wisemen from the East recognized in Yeshua the long-awaited manifestation of the Universal God announced in today's reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah and today's responsorial Psalm 72 tell us clearly that God is not what ethnocentric believers expected or even wanted. S/he loves everyone equally, not just Jews, much less Americans.
That's part of why Herod "and all Jerusalem with him" were "troubled" when they unexpectedly met the travelers who were seeking the world-centric and cosmic-centered manifestation of God that Isaiah had foreseen. The God Herod and the Jerusalem establishment knew was like the one worshipped by America-firsters. He loved and favored Jews, the Hebrew language, and the Holy Land. He was pleased by Jewish customs and worship marked by animal sacrifice and lots of blood.
So, Herod and Jerusalem were "troubled" when the foreigners came seeking the Palestinian address of a newborn divine avatar. The astrologers claimed that the very cosmos (the Star!) had revealed God's Self to them even though they were not Jews. Evidently, the wise men had cosmic-centered consciousness. They realized God not only transcended themselves and their countries, but planet earth itself. All creation somehow spoke of God.
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