July 22, 2024
News Nigeria Yola Diocese

Sermon: Archbishop Audu on Epiphany Sunday

The Epiphany Sunday

“Where is the infant King of the Jews? … We saw his star as it rose and we have come to do him homage”.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Amen! Good morning brothers and sisters in Christ. Today as most of us have known by now is the Epiphany Sunday. The Epiphany is a story of three wise men going by name Magi that visited Jesus as guided by a star.In a lighter mood, while talking about the story of the three wise men, a woman asked her parish priest this question, “Do you know why God gave the star to the wise men?” When the priest professed his ignorance of not knowing, she told him: “God knows that men are too proud to ask for directions”. The woman continued: “If there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped to deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and given some practical gifts.” Traditionally, in the Roman Catholic Church, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on the 6 of every January but for more participation the Catholic Church in Nigeria has moved the feast to Sunday. The celebration of the Epiphany is the feast of the manifestation of Christ as the true light to all the nations of the world, Jews and Gentiles, believers and non-believers; calling us to become more and more filled with this light, to clothe our own communities with the universality of this light and to labour to bring it to those who are still in darkness.It is no wonder then, that many nations today celebrate the feast with greater solemnity than even Christmas day. The word “Epiphany” itself is a Greek word, and it means making known something that has been hidden. Just as Christmas celebrates the special manifestation of Jesus to the Jews, so Epiphany celebrates his special manifestation to the rest of us who, as far as the Jews are concerned, belong to the Gentile world. In fact, the feast has often been referred to as the “feast of the nations”. The occasion should, therefore, provide you and me with a singular opportunity for praising and thanking God who has called us to be among the Christian community. It should also provide a stimulus to reach out to those who have not yet seen the light of the Lord as it rises in their darkness.

On a cold Harmattan morning three palm fruit farmers were warming themselves by the fireside. Soon two of them were engaged in a heated debate comparing their religions to decide which one was the true religion. Okoro, the oldest among them, sat quietly listening to the debate. Suddenly the two turned to him and asked, “Decide for us, Okoro. Which religion is the right one?” Okoro rubbed his white beards and said thoughtfully, “Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the oil mill. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.” He paused and then added. “But you know when you get there; the mill man does not ask you how you came. All he asks is, ‘Man, how good is your palm fruit?’”

The feast of Epiphany in the Catholic Church, reminds us of the Magi who came from faraway lands to worship the baby Jesus. The Bible tells us that they came guided by a star. Being nature worshippers who had no scriptures or Bible, God revealed himself to them through the means available to them in their own religion. Through the stars they were able to learn of the birth of Jesus and find their way to him. They came as pagans, they worshipped Jesus as pagans, and they went back home as pagans. They did not convert either to Judaism or even to Christianity. Their worship was acceptable to God and God directed them in their journey home through a dream. This shows that God does have a relationship with people of other religions who are neither Jews nor Christians. Like the palm fruit farmers, religious people of all persuasions tend to think that their religious tradition is the only way to God. This is what some of us hear, when we hear such words of Jesus as: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We quickly conclude that the way of God equals the way of our religious tradition. Yet the word of God cautions us against such a narrow minded interpretation. We read in Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). That is why we are fascinated with the story of the visit of the magi. It is a unique story that opens our eyes to the fact that God is not limited to any one religious tradition.There is only one God, and all who seek God with a sincere heart are led to Him, though they call Him by different names: (God, Allah, Anwudo Chineke, Reig, Oluwa and Dagwi or Adakunom ). One thing Christians have in common with members of other religions is that we all worship the same God. We all are children of the same Father. This truth is hard for religious people to appreciate because religious people all over the world tend to claim that they have exclusive access to God and the truth.In the Old Testament, the Jewish people believed that they were the exclusive people of God: the chosen people. They divided the whole world into two: Jews who were the people of God, and Gentiles who were not. Some of their prophets and wise men tried to correct this belief by reminding them of the universal love of God for all humankind. But it was not until Jesus came that this idea began to sink in. As the letter to the Ephesians states, Christ made both groups, Jews and Gentiles, into one people and broke down the dividing wall of hostility separating them (Ephesians 2:14). This is the message of the gospel that God commissioned Paul to preach: “that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6).Ephesians 3:3, describes this truth as a mystery: “the mystery was made known to me by revelation”. It is a mystery for two reasons: (a) a human reason alone could not have arrived at such knowledge without the light of divine revelation, (b) even after the truth has been revealed it still proves to be contradiction in terms of human reasoning. It is a dilemma of the Christian faith that we believe, on the one hand, that the Jews are God’s chosen people and, on the other hand, that “God has no favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).Mark Twain used to tell a joke that he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along. They did. So he went further and put in a bird, pig and goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic, and hell broke loose. Mark Twain did not even bother putting together a Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindu. That was unthinkable in his days. In today’s world, however, it has become obvious that Christians live in the same cage, in the same city, in the same world, with people of other religions.

In the past, the Christians have a tendency to make the same mistake as the Jews of old by claiming that there is no salvation outside the church. Then, the Vatican II came along; the church opened the windows to the Spirit of God, and came to recognize that God’s truth is available to people of other religions, although not to the same degree that it is available in the church. The difference between the Christian faith and other faiths, therefore, is not that we possess the truth of God and they do not, but that, thanks be to God’s unique revelation in Christ, we can now see God’s truth more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow God’s ways more closely in our daily lives. But we should always remember that if we go to sleep, even though we are on the better way, others who are on the ways not so called better way could arrive at the goal before us. Let us reflect on this mystery today as we celebrate the Magi coming from pagan lands to worship the new-born Jesus while God’s “chosen people” in Jerusalem sleep unaware that the kingdom of God has come.This point is very important particularly to us the Nigerian Christians, our Muslim brothers and Traditional Worshipers when in the name of God we are witnessing senseless killings and destruction of places of worship and properties worth millions and millions of naira in the recent past in this country. We should look at the story of the magi that are named as wise men and be wise enough ourselves to embrace one another regardless of our religious differences and come together and fight against things like poverty, hunger and diseases that are destroying us and the whole continent of Africa, rather than to channel our energy and the little resources to buy arms that will destroy one another in God’s name.Today, millions of people are out there who are yet to find the Lord Jesus. But they will not find him unless some stars will lead them to him. That kind of star is not out in the sky. It is right here on earth among us. It is people like, you and me, provided that we have already found Jesus ourselves. We are the ones who should now be leading others to Jesus, so that they too may find him.One way to do that is to tell people about Jesus: who he is, what he is and has been for us personally and for the human race as a whole. Therefore, if we are to be stars, leading others to Jesus, we must talk about him at every opportunity: at home, at work, even at play ground. The stars out in the sky never fail to reflect the light of the sun. As stars here on earth, we too should never fail or be ashamed or afraid to tell people about Jesus, so that they too may find him.Another way to lead others to Jesus is by the kind of lives that we live. Our lives must reflect our faith in Jesus. It is the Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who asked Christians: “If you Christians want us to believe in your redeemer, why don’t you look a little bit redeemed yourselves”? And Mahatma Gandhi was asked what the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India is? He said it is Christians themselves. When asked how did he arrive at this conclusion. He said if Christians will practice half what they read from the Bible they will convert the whole world. What we do must therefore match what we say. If we say one thing and do another, nobody will take us serious, and we will not be able to bring anyone to Jesus. In other words, our lives should be sermons people can read. Who knows, my life and yours may be the first sermon that someone will ever read. I must therefore be careful that it is not the sermon that person will ever read. Better to make of my life the first of many sermons that someone will read and be led to Jesus. So, we all can be stars. We must be stars in our world today. Finally, the witnessing of the Magi furthermore challenges our witnessing as Christians in many significant ways. For instance, while they brought gifts to the newborn king, we always want to receive from God. So many opportunities arise every day for us to give to God by giving to others, but we pass them by. This is what made Malcolm Muggeridge to state, “God signifies an alternative impulse – to sacrifice rather than to grab, to love rather than lust, to give rather than take, to pursue truth rather than promote lies, to humble oneself rather than inflate the ego”. What are you bringing personally to the new born child Jesus?

The Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 60:6) quoted in today’s First Reading, “They shall bring gold and frankincense”. In later tradition, the gold came to symbolize the kingship of Christ, the incense, his divine nature, and the myrrh, his redemptive suffering and death. They also came to signify virtue, prayer and suffering.

Happy Epiphany SSunday

+Ab Matthew Audu – Jos –

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