Sunday, January 4, 2015

Jesus Gives Meaning Through Hope

January 4, 2015
Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
Click here for the complete text of today’s readings.

 Jesus Gives Meaning Through Hope
See, darkness covers the earth, but upon you the Lord shines.

The world is basically beautiful, and so are people. Acts of love and heroism are taking place every day. There is also unending war, poverty, worldwide exploitation of the powerless, violent crime, terrorism, drug abuse, inhuman caging of criminals, neglect of the elderly and sick, and millions of children growing up in slums.

Psalm 90 says that, even for believers, “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and our years come to an end like a sigh.” Taking in the whole picture of life on this earth, aren’t we sometimes tempted to ask, “Is this all there is?”

Christians are the “stewards” of a great hope. Everyone who knows Jesus Christ says to the world with Saint Paul: “The stewardship of God’s grace was given to me for your benefit… the mystery that was made known to me by revelation.” And what is this mystery?

It is that all human beings, of every race and nation, are invited to be “coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus.” And sharers in his victory.

Christians are those who always see the present in the light of a promised future. This is not the “pie in the sky when you die” promise of individual bliss for those who “make it to heaven.” It is the realization of God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).

On the last Sunday of the year, the feast of Christ the King, we profess to the Father our faith in his promise:

For you anointed your Only Begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, with the oil of gladness
as eternal Priest and King of all creation,
so that, by offering himself on the altar of the Cross
as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace,
he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption
and, making all created things subject to his rule,
he might present to the immensity of your majesty
an eternal and universal kingdom,
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In every Mass, before receiving Communion, we pray with “great expectation”: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil… We are awaiting the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (see Titus 2:13).

In the Greek text the word “manifestation” (wrongly translated as “coming” in the liturgy) is epiphaneian—epiphany. We celebrate the feast of the Epiphany as the day when Jesus was “manifested” to “magi from the east” as a preview of Isaiah’s promise: “all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” We celebrate the Epiphany once a year, but we remind ourselves in every Mass of the final and eternal epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus in all his glory that is our “blessed hope.”

We do this to keep ourselves aware that the present is only a prologue to the future.

What does Jesus give to those who believe in him? The answer is “hope and stewardship.”

Because of Jesus (and only because of him, as history has proven again and again), we have hope in a future that will vindicate everything in the present—prove that God’s providence was “right, reasonable, and justified”—and give ultimate meaning and value to human life on earth.

Our own individual lives have ultimate meaning and value because we have been given and called to stewardship (oikonomian). “In Christ,” as baptized into his kingship, we are commissioned to be “managers,” “administrators of the manifold grace of God,” and to “serve one another with whatever gift each of us has received” (1Peter 4:10). Jesus himself said it: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). This gives meaning and purpose to ever moment of our lives.

Only Jesus can save the world from darkness and death. Only Jesus can keep life on earth from veering off into distortion and destructiveness, mediocrity and meaninglessness. But Jesus will only do it through us, acting in and through our human weakness. By Baptism we “became Christ.” We are his body on earth. That is our burden and our glory, our crucifixion and our joy, our dying that gives life to the world.

Stewardship gives meaning to our lives. Hope gives power to our stewardship. We have both stewardship and hope because Jesus is acting with us, in us and through us.

“Darkness covers the earth.” But we live in light, “awaiting the blessed hope and the epiphany of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Practice: Live in the present, looking to the future.

Discuss: What gives long term meaning to your life?

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