A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
Most Jewish and Christian scholars believe that the Prophet Isaiah was really three different people writing at three different times. Today’s reading is from the last section of Isaiah, written at the end of the Babylonian Exile. It is a time of great joy: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”
The Church reads this passage today because in the birth of Jesus all this and more has come. He is the fulfillment of all the prophesies and all the promises from God.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)
Paul writes, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” The mystery he is referring to is God’s whole plan for salvation in Jesus. However, it is not only for Jews: “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body”
Most of the early Christians were Jews, and many of them thought that Jesus came only for them. He certainly did come to proclaim the reign of God to Israel, but Paul makes it clear that it is for all people. We are all called to be a part of “the same body.” Paul dedicated his ministry to all people but traveled far and wide to reach the Gentiles. Without him, Christianity might have been limited to being a sect of Judaism and most probably would have died out as many other Jewish communities did over the decades and centuries. No, the Church of the apostles that you and I live in and believe in is inclusive, not an exclusive club for the holy. Pope Francis refers to himself as a sinner. We are all sinners, a Church of sinners, forgiven and saved by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to always reach out our arms and our hearts to those who have felt excluded or alienated from our Church.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
There has always been speculation about who the magi were. The best answer is that we do not know, but the important clue Matthew gives is that they came from the east, meaning they were gentiles. He wanted his predominately Jewish audience to know that their Messiah was recognized far beyond their community. He is a universal savior. Our Church is universal, more than a billion people scattered across the earth. Do you feel connected to any of these far-flung communities? Many of them live in poverty in many countries and in persecution in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, and numerous other places. Let us pray in solidarity with them and act in ways that may help.
In the last century, we prayed for the conversion of Communist Russia and freedom for what were called the Iron Curtain countries. After many years, it happened, to a degree. Let us pray now for freedom from hunger and poverty and persecution that billions of our brothers and sisters suffer today.
May you have a happy and healthy New Year!
Image by Sebastiano Iervolino. on Pixabay
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.