Where is God? This is a question that has been asked by every human being who ever lived at some time or other in his or her life. The Solemnity of the Epiphany wants to answer it.
The first reading of the liturgy today, Is. 60:1-6, focuses the presence of God in Jerusalem, upon which “the glory of the Lord shines.” The Prophet Isaiah teaches that the Divine Presence is meant for the children of Israel, but also for the rest of the world: the peoples, the nations, the kings who remain in darkness, covered by thick clouds. Israel and all the nations are in search of God and the radiance of Jerusalem captures their attention. It is there that they will meet and praise God, offering their gifts.
The Gospel reading of the day, Mt. 2:1-12, also wishes to focus the presence of God. It identifies the Divine Dwelling Pace, quite unexpectedly, as a stable in Bethlehem. The Gospel tells the story of the rising Star that “stopped over the place where the child was.” A major point of the story is that it is not Israel now that draws attention to the Star, but pagan Wise Men. They represent the whole world, seeking the Divine Presence, who is there not just for the Jews but also for all of humanity. The treasures in the possession of all peoples are meant to be poured out before Jesus, the focus of God’s presence and love for all. It is he who will orchestrate these treasures to save all people.
And so, each of us is invited today to answer the very important question, “Where is the focus of God’s presence for you?” It seems obvious to us who believe that that focus is Christ Jesus. But the Dwelling Place is even more specific. It is Christ in the place called St. Joseph Parish. Like with the stable at Bethlehem, there is a Star shining above 40th St. and Shea, the place where God is.
Being in this place over which the Star shines is a great challenge to all of us. Its radiance forces us to see the parish in new light. The temptation of parishioners in any parish is to say, “This is ours. These are our members, this is our property, this is our money. We take care of our own.” But is that enough when the Star is shining over our place? Certainly, the parish is for the parishioners. But the parish is defined by physical boundaries that go beyond the parish plant and the active members who participate in its activities. The Star over the Dwelling Place of God called St. Joseph Parish calls out to the whole neighborhood and even beyond.
The Star signals to all who see it that St. Joseph Parish is a center of outreach for God, a community of religion known to be neighborhood-friendly, collaborating with all the Star-seekers within its parish boundaries. The Star points out St. Joseph as a place of evangelizing, a place of generous charity, a place of engagement with everyone of good will whether Catholic or not, even whether Christian or not. The Star says, “Here is the Dwelling Place of God, where you can know and praise God, where you can pour out your treasures for a better world.”
What might living under the shining Star mean in practical terms for the parish? Perhaps it means providing parishioners with attractive materials to hand to people who ask about the Faith, e.g., the unchurched, the fallen away. Perhaps it means the parish has programs to help parishioners know how to use their own computers to promote the values of the Gospel. Perhaps it means showing wealthier members of the community how to make a greater difference with their treasures.
What’s more, having the Star shining over us can motivate us to welcome others in the neighborhood who need meeting space to promote Christian-friendly causes. The Star can mean joining our hands with other churches and groups to meet social needs around us like hunger, health care, youth formation. The Star can lead us to use our parish resources for programs that advocate for solutions to problems affecting everybody, like drug-abuse, gun violence, immigration reform, respect for life from womb to tomb, etc. Not that we are not already doing good things! But the Star keeps pushing us to see and do more in its light. The Star wants to make St. Joseph Parish radiate as brightly as possible as the Dwelling Place of God in our parish territory.
Is that not why we are organized into the Parish of St. Joseph? Is that not why we have a Pastor, a parish staff, councils and organizations and an abundance of human and material resources? As we ourselves have done, so we want the neighborhood to “follow the Star” and, overjoyed in seeing it, to enter the house. In the end, is this not what God wishes from us, to be the Epiphany of God’s presence and saving love to ourselves and to the entire neighborhood?
“And the Star . . . came and stopped over the place where the child was . . . and [they] entering the house . . . did him homage.” St. Joseph Parish is the place for us where the Star has stopped. Can we join together as parishioners to create even more excitement to get our neighborhood to come in? The Star is above us.