This is my homily for 3 January 2010, Feast of the Epiphany. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to http://www.usccb.org/nab and click “January 3” in the calendar.
[__01.] This time of year, we are moving from darkness to light.
This is true in the sky, in the winter season, and in the Gospel of Christmas and Epiphany.
In the Gospel of last Sunday, we might say that Joseph and Mary were really in the dark as they searched the road and Jerusalem for three days for their son Jesus, a parallel to his three days of darkness in the tomb.
At Christmas, we have a little bit of light. And, the light grows gradually. At Easter, at the resurrection, we have still more.
[__02.] At this point, in the Christmas and Epiphany Gospel, we might say that we have only a little bit of the light. The Savior of the world has been born, named, and identified by a few people: Joseph and Mary, the shepherds of Jerusalem, the magi of the East.
But, he has yet to set world on fire.
[__03.] The magi from the East bring their gifts through the darkness. We are called to do the same.
This is what the Lord has done for us – he forms us as first as children in the darkness. We are loved and made in darkness even before we are born. (cf. Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139)
We are moving from darkness to light.
[__04. ] In December 1996, a group of armed Marxist rebels stormed the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru. There was a dinner party going on at the time
The dinner guests become hostages for four months, ultimately being defeated by the government in April 1997. The guests thought that they were safe – perhaps at a Christmas party – at the ambassador’s home. But, they would not be going home until around Easter.
And, in a similar way, we are not really home until around Easter either.
It seems that our Washington DC White House is not the only place there are gate crashers.
A few years, later the American writer Ann Patchett wrote a novel loosely based on the experience of these dinner guests who become hostages and their captors, the armed rebels.
The novel is called “Bel Canto” which means beautiful song or beautiful singing.
One of the hostages – in the story -- is a professional opera singer, another hostage volunteers to be her accompanyist.
In many ways, the novel is a fictional fantasy and a moral fable. It is a story in which the novelist uses the ordeal – the crisis -- of being trapped, of being held hostage, to discover resources (talents / gifts) within each character.
For one, our soprano turns out to have some real leadership ability in addition to perfect pitch.
A second important character in the story is a multilingual translator / interpreter. He can speak Japanese, English, French, Spanish. He a "genius" at languages who "was often at a loss for what to say when left with only his own words."
In the crisis, he brings out his gifts. The opera singer brings out her gifts. All of them bring out their gifts for the sake of survival, for reconciliation, and for peace.
The hostage experience remains, however, a time of darkness and danger. Yet, one message of the novel is that the guests lose track of time during in the darkness.
[__05.] In the Gospel, we encounter the Magi who have a special gift, able to keep time, to follow the Star through the darkness. They know the stars, the moon, the constellations.
In the darkness, the magi discover a new priority. And, in the darkness of their kidnapping the characters trying to survive and to discover a new set of priorities in the process.
Somehow, for example, they seem to forget themselves – to lose themselves to the moment. It helps that they have professional musicians to pass the time under some uncomfortable conditions.
While reading the book, I was both hoping that the hostages would be freed but also hoping it would not end. I was losing track of time in their darkness.
[__06.] In the darkness, we might have trouble finding things. Finding our car keys, finding our eyeglasses, finding the alarm clock.
However, in the darkness, we somehow have less trouble identifying our real and true priorities.
In his Midnight Mass homily , Pope Benedict spoke about Christmas an awakening, an awakening from darkness. He points out that someone in darkness – someone who is asleep – is able to dream, to think, to see things.
The difference is that between the one sleeping and the one awake is that the one awake is connected to the outside world.
The same is true for us when we are shaken from sleep.
Consider what happens when we have an urgent call at night. If were to receive such a call, we would respond.
And, when a mother and father hear their baby in the darkness, they never doubt who is most important or who is calling to them.
The darkness helps us to see what the light cannot reveal.
[__07.] Darkness and silence are important elements of our Catholic faith. This is very true in monasteries and convents where they wake at all hours of the night to pray. But, it is also true for devout believers everywhere.
The morning, the darkness is a special time to rise before God. It reminds us that Jesus himself was born in obscure darkness in Bethlehem. And, his light begins to shine only gradually.
It has always been an important part of the Catholic path to holiness to seek the darkness, even to welcome the darkness.
In the darkness, we meet the light of God.
In the darkness, we discover our true priorities.
In the darkness – perhaps more easily than in the day – we put aside our childish things and come to the aid of those who need us.
And, we come to the light of God’s love both night and day to share that light with each other.