A reading from the Book of Isaiah
Most Jewish and Christian scholars believe that the prophecy of Isaiah was written by three different people at three different times. Today’s reading is from the last section of the prophecy, written at the end of the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus. It is a time of great joy as the Jewish people who had been held in Babylon are allowed to return to their home. “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 reason the Church reads this passage today is that in the birth of Jesus all this and more has come. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophesies and all the promises from God.
Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The psalmist knew when he wrote this, thousands of years ago, that it was not true, but he prayed that it would be some day.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians
(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)
Paul says, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” The mystery he is talking about is God’s plan for salvation through Jesus. However, salvation was 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 salvation is for all people. We are all called to be a part of “the same body.” Paul dedicated his ministry to all people and traveled far and wide to reach the Gentiles. The Church of the apostles that you and I live in and believe in is inclusive and not only in terms of ethnicity or nationality. 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. Matthew wants his predominately Jewish audience to know that their Messiah had come to accomplish the salvation of the whole world. He is a universal savior. Our Church is universal, “catholic,” 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 and are persecuted in places such as Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Pakistan. Let us pray in solidarity with them.
In the last century, we prayed for the conversion of communist Russia and freedom for what were called the Iron Curtain countries. Let us pray now for the freedom from hunger and poverty and persecution that m millions of our brothers and sisters suffer today.
May you have a happy and healthy New Year!
Image: Adoration of the Magi, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, seventeenth century, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio.
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. The passage regarding the wedding garment is from The New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.