Note: The following reflection was written by Sr. Marie Lucey, director of advocacy of the Franciscan Action Network.
It is hard to let go of the Advent and Christmas Seasons and move into Ordinary Time, especially since we expect 2017 to be anything but “ordinary” in political and geo-political terms. We have been nourished by prophetic visions and nativity stories of angels, dreams, and stars centered on the Child, Emmanuel, hope for the world.Epiphany closes the Season with the manifestation of the Christ Child to the Gentiles, with magi from the East bringing rich gifts and bowing in homage to the Child.
Even in this wondrous story of revelation, however, a shadow is cast, as the magi are warned in a dream not to return to lying Herod who plots to kill the Child. In fact, woven through the nativity stories are shadows of uncertainty, fear and doubt. Zechariah is struck mute because he doubts the angel. Joseph is greatly disturbed by Mary’s pregnancy and struggles about what to do until he is directed in his dreams. Mary is startled by the angel’s seemingly preposterous message. Uncertain, she asks her question, then proclaims her trusting Yes. Ordered by the tyrant, she and Joseph set out on a rough journey even though she is close to her time to deliver.
Through the years we have sugar-coated these stories with a bit of Hallmark romanticizing for our own comfort. Perhaps this year we will be more conscious of the shadows and take hope for our time. Isaiah’s marvelous visions came out of a time of struggle and anxiety. The time of Jesus and the gospel writers was a time of oppression, violence, and threats by both civic and religious leaders. Epiphany is marked by both a star and a shadow. In our shadow times, may we not lose sight of the star. May we trust the vision of Isaiah: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick clouds the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines…”; and the assurance of the psalmist: “Justice shall flower in his days and profound peace, till the moon be no more.”