Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany @ St. Apollinaris Parish

JANUARY 6, 2019

Henry Van Dyke - a Presbyterian minister, author, and statesman - was born in 1830 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He taught English Literature at Princeton University and lectured at the University of Paris. President Woodrow Wilson appointed him Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg. He also wrote the lyrics for the hymn “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee,” which many of us are familiar with.

Van Dyke wrote two Christmas stories: The First Christmas Tree - in 1897; and before that The Other Wise Man - in 1896.

In the story, The Other Wise Man, Van Dyke writes about a fictional fourth wise man who it would seem was always a little bit behind schedule.

On his way to rendezvous with the three magi, he stops to help a dying man - and so is late. By the time he arrives, their caravan has set out across the desert. He is forced to sell 1/3 of his treasure to finance his own journey to Bethlehem.

When he arrives in Bethlehem, it is in the midst of the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod. The Holy Family has already fled to Egypt; and this wise man again uses 1/3 of his treasure to save the life of a child by paying off the troops sent to kill the children.

For thirty-three years he travels around - always just a few steps behind Jesus - living his life as a pilgrim and as one seeking for Jesus. When he finally finds Jesus, it is in Jerusalem ... on Good Friday. He is again distracted, using the last 1/3 of his treasure to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery.

At the death of Jesus, the sun is darkened, and the earth shakes. Our fourth wise man is trapped under a falling stone at the temple. He feels that he has failed in his life’s quest - having never met Jesus ... and spending his treasure which was intended for the Christ Child, the newborn King, so many years before.

As he is dying - filled with remorse - he hears a voice that tells him:
 Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it 
 unto one of the least of these my brethren, 
 thou hast done it unto me.

That is, despite what appeared to be failures to achieve his own life’s goal, he had lived out the Beatitudes in his acts of mercy and charity. And in that sense, had not only met Jesus - but had served as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

For ourselves, especially around this time of year, we make “New Year’s Resolutions.” To lose weight, or read more, or work harder, or be nicer. Whatever they may be. And more often than not, it only lasts a couple of day or maybe weeks.

At the end of the Gospel reading we hear that the Magi did not return the way they came, but that they “departed … by another way.

There is a significance to this final line. To truly meet Christ Jesus in the flesh means to be transformed … to be changed. As Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen noted,
No one who ever meets Christ with a good will returns the same way as [they] came.

And so, as we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ; let us pray for the graces to truly be renewed by Christ’s presence among us. May we discover Him always in our daily lives … and be His hands and His feet … His mouth and His ears … out and about … in the world.