Today is December 26, the Second Day of Christmas and the Feast of Saint Stephen. As I write this article for the January newsletter, it is a frigid 14 degrees. The snow, which began falling around 4:00 PM on Christmas eve, was still coming down when I went to bed last night. It drifted over night, blown about by a strong, cold wind. My fear, up until the last few days before Christmas, was that so many of the faithful would show up for our Christmas Masses that we would not be able to welcome them safely with the pandemic protocols in place. That fear was replaced early on Christmas Eve with the realization that the bad weather would prevent many from being able to come to Church at all.
If the events of the past few days remind me of anything, it is that God is always willing to surprise us. What a surprise to so many, for example, who view God as a cold and distant figure, that God would choose to come into the world as a powerless infant? What a surprise it must have been to the Magi to have found the newborn King of the Jews not in a palace but in the poverty of a stable? What a surprise to those who view God as merciless that God would choose to take the sins of the world upon his shoulder and to die for the salvation of His people on a cross? What a surprise to those who saw death as the final end that Jesus would rise from the dead and that he would promise that same resurrection to all who are willing to place their faith in him?
Next Sunday, January 3, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the high point of the Christmas Season. And while in the west we automatically associate this feast with the arrival of the Magi at the stable to pay homage to the infant Jesus, the feast has a much broader meaning than we usually consider. The word Epiphany literally means manifestation or revelation. And so we understand the feast of Epiphany as the manifestation of God’s glory to the nations, symbolized by the presence of the Magi, “astrologers from the East”, who represent the nations of the world. Historically, however, the celebration of the feast was also associated with two other revelatory events—the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River and the miracle at Cana in which Jesus changes water into wine, the first of the signs in John’s Gospel that the Kingdom of God is at hand. While we now celebrate the Baptism of the Lord as a separate feast which officially ends the Christmas season, it is still celebrated as the Epiphany event in the Eastern Churches, called the Theophany, literally the revelation of God to the world.
As we celebrate Epiphany this year, let us consider what it means that God has revealed himself to us in so many ways—in the adoration of the Magi; in the Baptism of the Lord, in which God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”; in the miracle of the transformation of water into wine at the wedding at Cana, in which Jesus’ mother, Mary, said to those serving the wine, “Do whatever he tells you.”
And let us ponder what surprises God may have in store for us in this new year of 2021. How will God reveal himself to us and to the world? What surprises does God have in store for us as a world? As a Church? As members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians? What surprises does God have in store for our families and for ourselves as individuals? May we be open to believe and to understand whatever manner God chooses to reveal himself to us. May we be open to recognize the revelation of his Beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased, in whatever way He chooses to manifest himself. And may we consciously take to heart the advice of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of God, to do whatever Jesus tells us to do, that we might give glory to God the Father in all that we say and do.
May God bless each and every one of you in this New Year.
Fr. John Keehner
State Chaplain for Ohio