“We cannot live as those who do not have hope.”
As the Christmas season ends, the Church invites the faithful to recall the Biblical episode of the Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated on January 6. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word “phainein” which means “to display”, or “to show” – thus indicating the time when Christ is displayed, disclosed or manifested to the word.
Following the commemoration of the adoration of the child Jesus by the Magi, the Sundays that follow extend the significance of “showing forth” Christ to the world to include two other epiphanies or manifestations of Christ, that is at his baptism in the river Jordan, and at the wedding feast of Cana.
In the Philippines, the celebration of the Santo Niño can even be considered a fourth “epiphany” feast, during which traditionally diverse artistic expressions portray the child Jesus from one vested as a Spanish governor general to one clothed like a lowly street child are paraded by the pious on our city streets.
It would be interesting to point out that the three Magi were actually pagan astrologers. Theirs were actually an occupation that was expressly forbidden among the Jews – and yet they were among the first to offer gifts to the long-promised Messiah.
So these feasts of the epiphanies point out to one thing: that inasmuch as Christ has embraced our humble human nature, we are called to search for him in the ordinariness, and yes, even the brokenness of our everyday lives. These Sundays – including the much celebrated feast of the Santo Niño – recall the manifestation of God’s presence in earthly form, showing up to the most ordinary of persons – and the most unexpected of times and places.
Jesus himself was born during a dark and difficult time in Jewish history. The Romans occupied Judea and crushed every attempt to defy their unchallenged rule over their empire. In an attempt to secure their support, they made Herod king of the Jewish nation – an unpopular, insecure and power-hungry tyrant rejected even by his own people.
Even the intimate circumstances of Jesus’s birth were far from ideal. Mary became pregnant out of wedlock. His birth occurred when Mary and Joseph were on the road, forced to travel because of a census imposed by a distant Roman emperor. The journey of the Magi came with dire consequences, since after having told Herod that the “king of the Jews” was born in Bethlehem, the tyrant ordered what is now known as the “massacre of the innocents” – the murder of all children two years and under.
Despite all of these, Jesus came anyway.
Barely a week before Christmas, a supertyphoon devastated parts of the Visayas and northern Mindanao leaving a sorry swath of destruction in its path. Just when we thought the pandemic was finally coming to an end, another more transmissible variant led to another surge of coronavirus infections.
In the midst of all these crises, many of us are longing to understand God’s purpose and searching for whether there might be a blessing behind all of these difficulties. Like the Magi, many of us are motivated to look for God, not because of a lack of faith, but because we want to know if there might be something more than the challenges that we see around us. The curiosity of the Magi forced them to go beyond the limits of their knowledge. The steadfastness of John the Baptist led him to a close encounter with Christ whose coming he prophesied in the desert. The persistence of Mary compelled Christ to perform the very first of his miracles, transforming water to wine in a wedding feast.
Interestingly, each epiphany of Christ was preceded by a crisis, and punctuated with an encounter of faith.
That encounter happens to us in many ways – mostly when we are faced with the limits of our human capacity or when we are confounded by the realities and circumstances around us. Similarly, that encounter affects us in many ways. The Magi, for example, took a different route on their way home, implying an act of conversion from disbelief to faith. John the Baptist, on the other hand, accepted profoundly, that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Finally, Mary, anticipating the miracle that Christ would perform, told the attendants with deep faith, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
The same could be said of the problems and difficulties that we have in our own lives, and the pains caused and scars left by these less-than-ideal situations. These are the dark and desperate places in our lives that leave us longing for light, and the way ahead that makes us wonder if God ever listens to our prayers.
At times, it would be the suffocating discomfort in the monotony of our mundane affairs, or the discouraging limitations of our present circumstances that limit our own possibilities. Or it could be the lingering frustration and hopelessness that stem from the growing breakdown in our politics, in our economy and in our society. These are the troubles of our times and our lives that may weigh on us heavily.
We may be constantly surrounded by reminders of human brokenness – the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the political strife and racial tension, social injustice, violence and poverty, and even our own personal concerns – but it is in the midst of all these that Christ shows himself to be the light in the midst of darkness.
These Sundays of the Epiphany leave us with the comforting thought that it is in when and where it is least possible and expected that God shows forth his presence. For even though we are constantly reminded that we are in a broken world, we cannot live as those who do not have hope. All we have to do is to accept with greater faith that in the end, even if we cannot fix everything that needs to be fixed, and even when we cannot make everything perfect, Jesus will come, anyway.