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Homily - Epiphany 2022 - Bishop McKeown


Thursday, 6 January 2022 

The twelve Days of Christmas have been full of stories about travellers and searchers. Joseph and Mary had travelled to Bethlehem and never ceased to be surprised by the surprised people they met – smelly shepherds and Wise Men, as well as old Simeon and Anna in the temple. And the Magi - whose arrival is celebrated today – were a strange bunch. They were not Jews and came from the East. For some reason they believed they were looking for a King. And, when they were led to Bethlehem, they had sufficiently open hearts to find an anonymous baby far from his parents' home. Those who think they know what they are looking for are often blind to being surprised. Those who allow themselves to be led by an audacious dream are prepared to believe that there is someone who knows better than they do. This year we have lessons to learn from the Magi.

Firstly, we hope that the worst of the Covid situation is behind. But we are not sure what way the Lord is now leading us. We squabble about how we are church and what the spiritual needs of our parishes are. We might prefer to work at recreating an older model of Church that seemed to have strengths in a different cultural, educational and social environment. We might set our sights on winning more popularity polls by making Christ's message less uncomfortable for our contemporaries. We might prefer to develop a sad forecast, dominated by having to cope with fewer clergy. All of these ways of moving forward imply that we know the outcome that we would like or expect. The Wise Men started with a different perspective. They did not know where they were being brought but they trusted that there was one who was leading them. Today invites us to discern what star we are going to follow – wherever it leads. We do not need to believe we know where God is leading us.

Secondly, the wise men travel, expecting to find an infant king, a source of new hope and life. We are called to travel in search of new beginnings, wherever they are to be found. Renewal in the Church will come from discovering where God is hidden in our midst, hidden in plain sight. Renewal will come about when we know a God who seeks fresh beginnings. Gloomy narratives do not form part of the Gospel message. New life comes from outside our power. Even in difficult times, perhaps most especially in difficult times, our task in church is to be bearers of hope and not messengers of doom. From Bethlehem to Calvary, we know that from difficult times and shattered human pride, God brings new life to birth in the most unexpected of places. This time of change is a source of fresh beginnings and not merely a time for the loss of mourning past realities or painting a frightening picture of the future.

The birth in Bethlehem was always pointing forward to unexpected heights. Are we ready to be led along challenging paths in our day? For that is the only way that we will encounter Christ in our time.

Thirdly, the Magi had were changed by their unexpected encounters. Life would never be the same. They returned home - but by a different way. The encounter with Christ always changes us into his image and likeness. That may happen in prayer or suffering or forgiveness. The God of transformation is to be found in strange little corners of our lives. The big question is not about what we believe has to be changed in structures or teaching – but whether we are personally opened to being changed by the grace of the disarming and energising Christ in our midst. Are we prepared to change often self-serving narratives? Are we prepared to hear the unwelcome voices pointing to uncomfortable truths? Are we open to travelling on by a different way?

The Epiphany, the revelation of God to representatives of the foreign nations, is a feast for a Church on the move. It is a celebration of a church that is prepared to walk new paths, because we have followed the little star and encountered the unexpected new life in a strange place. It means believing that God's plans are bigger than the limited image of God that we feel content to worship. It is a feast for bringing our strange gifts to the Lord who will use them as he sees fit. The birth in Bethlehem was always pointing forward to unexpected heights. Are we ready to be led along challenging paths in our day? For that is the only way that we will encounter Christ in our time.

+ Donal McKeown

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