Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Need for Epiphany

Before leaving school for Christmas break, a friend of mine and I had a bit of a debate over one of the liturgical prayers of Advent. The prayer speaks of our preparation for the Incarnation of Christ. He wondered if it was a good word choice, since really the Incarnation "happens" at the Annunciation. For me, I felt it was a good prayer, because both feasts commemorate the event (we genuflect during the creed on both days), and if Christmas doesn't focus on the Incarnation, what mystery does it celebrate? Celebrating even the actual birth of Christ is only of value because it recalls to us the wonderful truth that God's Word has been made Man.

But it got me thinking. It's really about Epiphany.

In the West, we don't give the Feast of the Epiphany quite the focus our Eastern brethren appropriate to it. But all these events in the human life of Christ are, it seems, equally valuable for our contemplation: We shudder at the mystery that God becomes Incarnate in the Virgin's womb; we celebrate with joy when He is born a man in the lowly circumstances of a Bethlehem stable; we wonder with awe when the rulers of earth bow down to this Baby and lay their crowns and kingdoms at His feet.

It's safe to pray for the grace to celebrate the Incarnation as we approach Christmas, because it's about recognition. There's something made manifest in Bethlehem that has yet lain hidden. We see with our eyes the terrible fact: this is a babe like any other, yet so different. The full impact of God's humility in becoming like us is obvious now in a new way. Yes, God was conceived in Mary's womb - but He might have been born crowned with gold. He might have come forth a mighty warrior, or speaking judgement rather than the prattle of infancy. But this is not the case. He comes forth meek and lowly, wanting milk from the breast, needing warmth and protection and the other necessities of early life - especially love. He comes forth needing and wanting: like us in all ways but sin. His humility means that there are gifts of ours that He, who made all that is, can genuinely want. It gives all our gifts value and makes our human efforts efficacious. Already in the manger at Bethlehem is a preview of the Sacramental dispensation and the manifestation of the Cross: where suffering will be made redemptive, human means will (with grace) be made capable to achieve superhuman ends, and God's kingdom will come to reign on earth.

So, have we recognized Him?

Epiphany now approaches. Unfortunately, it will likely pass with the same nonchalance in the West as it does every year. But, it doesn't need to be that way.

We have celebrated the Incarnation. We rejoice at Christ's birth among us as the Christmas season continues. He has come into our midst, and we have prayed that His coming may bring true and lasting peace.

Meanwhile, violence has continued in Iraq, sanctions have fomented the Iranian nuclear crisis, talk about an increased troop level has politicians sharply divided, and Saddam Hussein has been sent to his death. It hardly seems like a peaceful world.

In all of it, we must ask ourselves: have we truly recognized Him? Have we meant the words we've prayed? Have we truly believed, when we prayed for world peace, that it is an attainable goal - or is it merely the idealism of the Church playing the fool in the world? Has our giving and receiving of gifts truly helped us to appreciate the gift we have in Christ?

His coming makes a real difference. It certainly makes a difference for the three kings who come from the East. They kneel before Him and return to their lands changed men: Saints, according to our tradition. Even enemies are changed: Herod, for example. But are we different? Has His coming meant all that much to us? Or has it meant anything less than the world to us?

Epiphany is kind of a final chance to recognize Him. The year is still young, our planners and ledgers still full with blank pages upon which we will write our future. Will our resolutions be changed by what we have seen manifest in Bethlehem? Will we lay our plans and hopes and dreams before His feet, and submit our own dominions to His kingdom reigning down?

May we all truly have an epiphany this Christmas season. May Simeon's canticle be our own. May we truly recognize His presence in our lives. Throughout the coming year, may He reign in our hearts, in our homes, and in our world. And may His blessings be always upon us.




Blogger Friguy said...

Throughout Advent, the Church prays for the grace to understand the mystery of the Incarnation via the celebration of the Nativity. This is a wise prayer, for, as Joey G. mentions, the two feasts are intimately bound.

Yet, this prayer is not without its troubles. Chiefly, it is open to the grave misunderstanding that Christ only entered the world at Christmas. To say that the God-man comes first at Christmas is to ignore the Annunciation and, consequently, to participate in the contraceptive mentality of contemporary "culture."

And this is fair enough. Yet, notwithstanding this possible trouble, the Church is still wise to pray as She does in Advent. We must permit the star of Bethlehem--where the Messiah was manifest--to illuminate the home of the handmaid--where Christ was announced. The above-mentioned potential difficulty is just that: potential. It would be cowardly and unjust not to pray in the magnificent manner of the Church. Is it wrong to teach NFP in its proper context even when it is known that opposition will liken it to illegitimate birth control means? Neither is it inappropriate to pray, speak, and act with sincerity even when the potential for misunderstanding is sure. the point. The meek shall inherit the earth, but we must not be shy with the Truth.

1/4/07, 1:06 PM  

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