Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God in Jesus — first as the baby at Bethlehem, then as the child presented at the Temple, and, finally, as the adult Jesus, baptized by John and changing water to wine at Cana.
On Christmas Eve, we heard from Isaiah about the “Prince of Peace,” the child who would conquer oppressors. “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning” the prophet promised (Is 9:1-7).
Yet the world, 2012 years or so after the birth in Bethlehem, is not peaceful:
Midnight Mass in Iraq was cancelled because of fear of violence.
On Christmas Day, in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja, a bomb killed 37 people at St. Theresa Church. Another 57 people were wounded. Another bomb wounded children in an Arabic school in southern Nigeria on Dec. 28.
On Dec. 30, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, reported that at least 26 Catholic pastoral workers had been killed in mission lands in 2011.
By Dec. 31, violence in parts of Africa had claimed more lives, especially women and children. According to UNICEF, 24 children were killed in Somalia in just the month of October, while 58 others were wounded. And in South Sudan, which became independent in July, nearly 1,000 died in ethnic violence in just five months.
So, on this Epiphany, what does Isaiah’s prophecy, what does the sweet baby in the manger and what does the violence in the world around us reveal?
Pope Benedict XVI gave some direction in his Christmas Eve homily:
“At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks … you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you.”
Amid the modern commercialism of Christmas — and the coming Valentine season — the Holy Father said it is hard to remember the poverty of Bethlehem’s stable, the simplicity of the manger scenes St. Francis first gave us in 1223, and the humility of the God who became human.
We are called, Pope Benedict reminded us, to be simple and humble like Christ. “In this spirit … let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart.”
That begins, he concluded, with prayer; especially for all who “celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they and we may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable.”
As examples of simplicity, we might take the Magi whose visit we celebrate on Epiphany. Yes, the “three kings” arrayed in fine robes. The Magi may or may not have been kings, but they were definitely wise. They were wise enough to be humble: humble in coming a long, arduous distance to seek a new-born king, humble in bowing before a baby and humble in giving generous gifts to a homeless family in a stable,
Can we do any less when faced with the poverty and violence of our world?