How does Jesus show himself to you?
A common thread ties together the Mass readings from Christmas till the end of January. On Christmas, of course, we have Jesus’ debut to the world at Bethlehem. On Jan. 1, we hear about Jesus being seen by the shepherds. On the following Sunday, we see him being revealed to the Magi. After that, we see him being revealed to John the Baptist, and the following Sunday he is revealed through John to us as the beloved Son of God. The Sunday after that, Jesus begins his mission and the people who were in darkness see a great light. See the connection? It’s all about Jesus manifesting himself to the world.
At his birth, he shows us himself in the paradox of complete vulnerability: Almighty God in the form of a baby who cannot defend himself and who is completely dependent on the help of his father and mother to care for his most basic needs in a world where the powerful and paranoid want to kill him.
Not to the rich, mighty or wise
Next, we see him manifesting himself, not to the rich, mighty or wise, but to the first-century equivalent of parking lot attendants. The shepherds who come to adore him were regarded as the trailer trash of their world — and they are the ones to whom God, in his wisdom, reveals himself first. As Paul says:
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)
Next, we come to Epiphany, when the Magi, who represent all the Gentiles, see Jesus manifested to the world. It is significant that the story of the Magi comes to us from Matthew, who is the apostle to the Jews. In telling that story, he is spurring his countrymen on to a sort of holy envy by pointing to the fact that the words of the prophets are being fulfilled as the pagans come to honor the God of Israel in Christ.
A mission that encompasses the world
In the manifestation to John the Baptist, we see Jesus being revealed to somebody who knew him, yet did not know him. John is Jesus’ cousin, yet by his own testimony he “did not know him.” (John 1:31) His point is not that he’d never heard of Jesus, but that (until the gift of the Holy Spirit made it possible) he didn’t grasp the full truth about Jesus as the beloved Son of God. John is the recipient of revelation — the truth about Jesus is made manifest to him. When that happens, he does what all who have truly received revelation do: He testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.
Finally, Jesus begins his mission and is revealed to the world. It is significant that we are reminded of the prophecy about the “land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali.” (Matthew 4:15) The language is deliberately archaic (just as if a modern writer were to speak of France as “land of the Franks”). The evangelist is reminding us that this was “ground zero” for the judgment that fell on Israel seven centuries before Christ when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and deported its citizens to oblivion starting with Zebulun and Naphtali. It is right there that Jesus begins his mission of redemption — a mission that will ultimately encompass the whole world.
Jesus continues to manifest himself today. How does he show himself to you?
Northwest Catholic - January/February 2015