Saturday, January 5, 2013

Epiphany Homily

Epiphany 2012

we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him

In the history of baby showers the gifts of the magi have to be numbered among the least useful. Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh. I suppose that Gold might have been welcome but there can’t have been that much of it or the story would have turned out differently. Maybe just enough to get a room at the Bethlehem Holiday Inn. But disinfectants and embalming fluid is not exactly top of the list for new baby gifts.

Obviously I am trying to be cute. The wise men did not come all the way from the East to congratulate Mary and Joseph on their new baby. They did not even come to get wiser. As they told Herod “we have come to worship him”.  And when they did found him St. Matthew tells us was “they fell down and worshiped him”.

Which only demonstrates how much wiser these pagan magicians were than many modern day Christians.

That western Christianity is in crisis there can be little doubt. However you would like to measure this you come to pretty much the same conclusion. According to a Pew Forum survey released in 2012, 30 percent of American adults under 30 have no religious affiliation, compared with only 10 percent over 65.  The question is “what’s the problem?” The pundits say it is a moral crisis, meaning folks are no longer interested in outdated Judaeo-Christian morality. Certainly there is a moral crisis. But it is interesting that the experts also say that folks are not attracted to worship services, except where they include adaptation of music, of drama, of movie clips, the big screens to project lyrics, in other words they only go in for worship, which is not worship.

The truth is what we have is a crisis of worship. There is a connection of course between worship and morality. Just look at the difference in the polls between how Catholics vote who go to Mass every Sunday and those how those vote who do not go to Mass every Sunday.

But the real problem is that folks do not even know what worship is. In my experience, if the sign out in front of the Church says “Worship at such-and-such a time”, you can be pretty sure that what is going to happen at such-and-such a time is not worship. You might get some bible reading and hymns but mostly what you get is a sermon.

In the first place, worship is not optional. Worship according to St. Thomas Aquinas is a matter of justice as "a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due with constant and perpetual will." Worship is a duty. We have the duty to worship and to obey the God who has shown such great love to each one of us and whom we must love above all things.

We worship not because it is convenient, we like the preacher, the service, the youth program, the Sunday school or the people who go to that church. We worship because we love God, because God’s love compels us to worship, just like the star compelled the magi. I do not suppose that the three kings much liked the long journey, three years if the tradition is right, only traveling at night, having to stop to talk with Herod, damn inconvenient, but the Star of God’s love drew them on.

Worship is not about what you are going to get out of it but you are going to give to it. “they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” What would surprise ancient pagans and Jews and early Christians alike about the way we worship is that it does not involve a sacrifice. You cannot worship unless you give something up, something has to die and that something has to be important and dear to you. With pagans and Jews  it might be the best lamb or cow. With us Christians it is ourselves, our souls and bodies joined to the one, perfect sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  “Pray, brethren, that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable unto God the almighty Father.”

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” The truth is we are made to worship God and we are miserable, if we do not do it. The joy of worshipping God come not from finding ourselves but from forgetting ourselves. It maybe just a fleeting moment. The bell rings. The host is lifted up like a star and we see and we adore. The best moment this side of heaven.

we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him

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