Isaiah 60:1, 4
Write: (read it this time)
“Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.… Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.”
I am not going to ask for a show of hands, but how many of you parents and grandparents have as part of your consistent prayer that your children or grandchildren, brothers or sisters, return to the faith? How many of you have cried tears of pain that your family no longer seems to believe? I would imagine that almost every hand would be raised.
Isaiah wrote our reading at a time when the nation of Israel was in captivity again, and the city of Jerusalem was in ruins. It seems to me that we are approaching a similar situation at this time in the church. So many researchers are reporting that only a fraction of Catholics are actually attending Mass. We could create a long list of the reasons why we think that has happened. But explaining why is not important.
What is important is an answer to the question: what is to be done? The image Isaiah gives us is of a woman sitting dejected and mournful, but one who is beautiful, even in the mourning for her children. As I listened to this reading, I could even see her: I was on her left side and could only see her profile.
But I saw a woman of beauty who was being told she no longer needed to be sad. And she stood up with a smile on her face, and her tears were turned from sorrow to joy. Her children were coming home.
Today is the feast of the wise men, better known as the feast of the Epiphany. But what does Epiphany mean? It means “to shine upon, or to appear”. The first meaning of this “shining upon” is the star that the Magi followed. But the second meaning, to appear, can refer to the appearance of God on earth, incarnate in Jesus. Both meanings are true. God’s light has shown on the world, in and through his son Jesus.
It is Christ himself, shining on the world, who will bring back the children of Zion, the children of the church. He is the one who will make the church rise up in all her beauty, no longer crying tears of loss, but tears of joy as her children come back to her.
Throughout the history of the church, there have been times when people have walked away from the church. There has been a constant ebb and flow of people who choose to stay with the church, and those who abandon her. We are in a terrible ebb time.
But as we face this feast day of the Epiphany, I believe our prayer needs to be for a resurgence, a return, of the children of the church. She is still the most beautiful lady. She may be covered with dust and tears because of the things that have happened in recent decades, but she is still the bride of Christ.
As Isaiah said: “raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you – your sons from afar, your daughters in the arms of their nurses. Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart will throb and overflow.… All from Sheba shall come bearing Golden frankincense, and heralding the praises of the Lord.”
The first stanza of our Responsorial Psalm needs to become our prayer regarding our actions: “Oh God, give your judgment to the King; your justice to the King’s son; that he may govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment,…” We are the king’s sons and daughters. We are the ones God will use to restore his church. It has always been so. We are the ones God will use to raise up his church, in the eyes of the world around us, who do not want to think of the church as anything of value.
This is the work of the remnant of the church. Not many people speak of a remnant, but I believe that is what we have. And our prayer in this day needs to be that Jesus will appear to his people, through his people, for the sake of his people – for the sake of his church, his bride.
As Paul said in our reading from Ephesians: “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The gospel needs to be shared. And we are the ones charged to do it.
Lord Jesus, give us your love of the church. Your love for your people. Help us to shine in the world around us with the power of your Spirit and the gift of your mercy.
Help us to draw those back to the church who have wandered away. Help us, especially, to pray for them. Many of them are those we love. Guide our thoughts, our prayers, our actions, that they may be done in a way that will encourage your people to return.
We have seen so many people wander away. Help us to feel the loss, as you feel it. Help us to create a new Epiphany, a new shining of your light and grace in the world around us. Make this year the beginning of the renewal of your church. And let us be instruments of that renewal. Amen.