Keep your eyes on Christ: An Epiphany reflection

Keep your eyes on Christ: An Epiphany reflection

I was invited to give the reflection at Morning Prayer for the Diocese of Reno annual diocesan conference last Saturday, January 6, 2018. It’s always a wonderful gathering with excellent speakers and an enthusiastic assembly. Monique Jacobs and her team always do a great job, and their excellence leaves a lasting good impression. I had so many friends who were previous speakers of this conference asking me to send their greetings to Monique and adding their endorsement of the conference.

Every year, the conference happens at the tail end of the Christmas season, which gives it a unique liturgical context. The structure they used for Morning Prayer was full-on monastic style with two psalms, a canticle, reading, and responsory. And the psalms were chanted antiphonally by the assembly. How wonderful!

The opening hymn was “What Child Is This?” paired with Scott Soper’s “Child of the Poor,” and the theme of the conference was “Keep Your Eyes on Me.” They used the assigned Liturgy of the Hours texts for Saturday, Morning Prayer, Week I, and the Saturday between January 2 and Epiphany.

  • Psalm 119
  • Exodus 15
  • Psalm 117
  • Isaiah 9:5

The Lord has made known his saving power. So keep your eyes on Christ. But where do we find Christ?

The one born in Bethlehem, the one we call Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Prince of Peace is absolutely Christ, the babe the son of Mary.

But I’ve also seen the Wonder-Counselor at a street corner in Chicago. He was bundled up against the cold. “Could you spare anything?” he asked.

“I’m really sorry, I don’t have anything. But please, tell me your name.”

He straightened out his ragged coat and stood a few inches taller and said, “My name is Theodore.”

“Theodore,” I echoed, “that’s a good name, a dignified name.”

He beamed, “I got my name from my father. I try every day to live up to that name.”

I decided that if I saw him again that afternoon I would get some cash and give him something.

Sure enough, he was still there a few hours later, and I called out him, “Theodore!” and gave him some money.

He said, “I stand here every day, and nobody sees me. Thank you for seeing me.”

Later that night, I remembered a priest I knew named Theodore. He always liked to remind me that Theodore means “gift of God.”

This, this is Christ the King, the babe the son of Mary.

I was at a bus stop along the Guadalupe River in downtown San Jose. That’s where I ran into the Prince of Peace. He was in his early 20s and looked anxious. He asked me if I knew when Bus 66 would be coming. I said I didn’t know. It wasn’t the bus I was waiting for.

Then asked, “Do you know if there are any homeless shelters nearby?” He explained that he was staying at a shelter now, but they could only let him stay a couple months. He told me he got a job a month ago and showed me his brand new shoes with pride and a tinge of embarrassment. “I couldn’t believe they chose me and hired me out of all the people applying for it. I really hope this job works out,” he said quietly.

As my bus pulled up, I told him the name of a nearby parish and I gave him my card and said to call if he needed anything. I asked for his name. “Daniel,” he said.

As my bus drove away, I watched Daniel look at my card and put it away carefully into his backpack. I thought, there goes Daniel, the chosen one of God, making his way by faith and hope in the lions’ den.

This, this is Christ the King, the babe the son of Mary.

One Sunday, I saw the God-Hero at the grocery store checkout. She struggled to hold a bucket of butter, two bags of bread rolls, a box of pastries under one arm, and a bottle of wine under the other. I stepped forward. “Here, let me help you.”

She had come just needing butter, so she didn’t think she’d need a cart, she explained. “Every year on the Sunday before Christmas,” she said, “I cook for 40 people.”

“Are they all your family?” I asked. “No, I lost touch with my family long ago. And even if I hadn’t, I’m not sure they would take me back. But I miss them. So I try to give others a sense of family. I’ve been cooking at this place for many years. It’s just my routine. I didn’t want to run out of food for them, so I got the rolls and pastries, too, and some extra wine. Just in case.”

This, this is Christ the King, the babe the son of Mary.

January 6 is traditionally the twelfth day of Christmas, Dia de los Tres Reyes, Epiphany. The manifestation, the revelation to the world of God with us. But in addition to the Epiphany and the Three Kings, there are two other traditional “theophanies” or revelations of God’s presence: Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan, and the wedding at Cana. Often you’ll see these three scenes portrayed together in icons, and next Christmas season we’ll hear those three gospels back to back.

Here’s the thing about these epiphanies, the kings, the Jordan, Cana: None of them happened in church. If you’re relying on seeing God just at church, then you’re missing out on seeing God everywhere right in front you. We don’t need wondrous stars, voices coming down from heaven, miracles, or angels to show us Christ. We only need to open our eyes, look up, and see—really see—the people we encounter every day.

Christ is there in each person, in their brokenness and imperfection. And we are called to adore them just as fervently as we adore the Christ-Child and offer the best of our gifts to them, as little as our gifts may be. For each person we meet, most especially the ones we overlook and ignore, they are Theodores, gifts of God. They are voices from heaven saying “This is my beloved. Listen.” They are proof that, with love and mercy, a bit of bread and butter and a bottle of wine or two can become a feast and strangers can become family, if only we see.

So keep your eyes on Christ all around you, and you will find Christ …but also keep your eyes on me and on you and you and on all who give praise to God at this banquet table, because our baptism and the Eucharist give us not only the eyes to see Christ in one another but also the gifts to be Christ for one another in our weary world. When we reverence that presence of Christ in everyone we meet, we become a living, breathing epiphany of God, revelation and manifestation of the presence of Christ in our world.

And so here, today, we can look to one another, in this assembly gathered to praise God, and we can sing:

This, this is Christ the king, the babe the son of Mary.

Image credit: Ishan Gupta, unspalsh, CC 0.

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