The Epiphany story is one of my favorites. A star, mysterious magi from the East, an evil king, all the elements of a good story. Yet we celebrate more than a story. The Gospel of Matthew, like Jesus, uses stories to teach us something essential to being Christian. Here we have foreign wise men seeking, journeying far from home, following a gift of the natural world to find the promise of God. They find that promise in a child living in a remote village with a carpenter and his young wife. Later in the story, this couple and child must flee to the land where their ancestors had been enslaved. Obedient to God, they would undertake a dangerous journey to seek protection and peace in another land, unfamiliar and sometimes hostile – all to protect the child, the promise of God.
The story is a familiar one. Parents leave home, threatened by violence and death to find safety and peace for their children. Yet there is something more in this story. This is the story of Emmanuel, God-with-us. The magi don’t just find a family with a young child, they find the promise of God. They experience the reality of God-with-us, present and real in the child. Their response is worship.
This story teaches us something essential to being Christian. It teaches us that God is here with us, that God is for all the world, including foreigners. It teaches us to recognize God-with-us in others, especially the poor and vulnerable. God calls us to recognize him in those who suffer, both near and far.
The Epiphany story tells us of wise men from the East searching for the promise of God. The wise men were most likely travelers from present day Iraq and Syria, once a place of wealth and culture. Today, it is a place of violence and suffering, a place where 3.2 million Syrians have fled searching for life, peace and safety. Just as the holy family fled to Egypt seeking to protect the promise of God, parents in the Syria and Iraq travel long distances seeking safety and peace for their children. The majority of registered Syrian refugees are women and children. 51% of these refugees are children under 17 and another 23% are women. Catholic Relief Services, UNESCO and other organizations are working hard to bring food, medicine, shelter and healing to these families. CRS is working with refugees in Lebanon, Greece and Serbia and you can learn about their work with children and families and more information about the Syrian refugee crisis at www.crs.org/media-center/syrian-refugee-crisis-7-things-you-can-do-help. Their work needs our support.
Each Epiphany at St. Patrick we invite parishioners to reflect on how we personally recognize the face of God in our world, our God-with-us. Again this year we invite you to take an ornament from the Epiphany trees in the narthex. On these ornaments we offer stories of refugee children and families and resources to learn, pray and act for these little ones, these suffering ones, these children and families fleeing their homes to find peace and safety, people choosing life. These resources come from Catholic Relief Services and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who have proclaimed the week of Epiphany National Migration Week. They call us to pray and act on behalf of migrants and refugees around the world, and those victimized by human trafficking. God is truly with us, inviting us to love our neighbor. May your new year and this Epiphany be blessed with peace.
Cathy Olds, Coordinator of Social Justice and Outreach Ministry