On New Year’s Eve we had a wedding this year. Very nice couple, they had been friends and then dated for many years… but anyway, we had the wedding and as I was preaching the homily I realized that I was sharing a thought has been growing in my mind and slowly taking shape in other homilies and discussions and all sorts of moments for some time now. The thought goes something like this: God wanted us to know Him. He did not want to be an abstract concept, he did not want to be an idea in our heads… he wanted us to know him. So he was born in a manger two thousand years ago. He entered into creation so that we could see him… and hear him… and walk with him… and even now know the words he spoke and the things he did. We are physical beings with bodies and souls, and our bodily existence needed that encounter. And this is why today we continue to have physical encounters with God through the sacraments, why we use water and oil and bread and wine and physical reality to tell us that God is doing something spiritual that is beyond our senses. This is in many ways what we celebrated at Christmas, this thought that God wanted us to know him.
Every time I find myself preaching this thought at weddings and baptisms and all those major sacramental moments knowing that there might very well be family and friends present who have not been connected to faith in their lives in that strong and passionate way… I always have in my heart this hope that someone listening might be realizing for the first time that God wanted them to know him, and that they are sitting there thinking, “my gosh, that’s what I want too. I want God to be real to me.” But even if that moment of conversion isn’t happening, for each of us – I very much include myself – there is always that need to remember our desire to know God and the breathtaking thought that God in all his mystery and wonder wants to take us deeper into that absolute joy of God being real in our lives.
This year I’ve seen several different people with tears in their eyes at the moment of receiving communion, tears of joy, and a few of them have shared with me that they were overwhelmed to receive the sacrament for the first time after being away because of the pandemic. One man was so overwhelmed that he started to tear up again trying to find the words to express what it was like to receive communion after nine months of being isolated. Those moments of profound and overwhelming emotion at how much they desired God was God’ gift to them, and while we won’t all have that same experience I know that it captures the larger story of faith for us all as we come to understand this fundamental idea that we want to know God and God wants the same and God has acted in his Son and continues to act in our hearts.
In this divine communication there is one important thing that I want to leave you with on this feast of the Epiphany. We hear the story of the wise men who in a way represent us as well. The have always been a symbol of the Gentile nations traditionally, an early sign that Christ was born into this world for all of humanity and even the distant and unnamed peoples far beyond Jerusalem would see and recognize his light. But in our personal journeys of faith I think they represent the desire we have for God to be real to us and the hope that as we journey toward him, even when we are following signs and moments and like them saying “we have seen his star but where is he that we might go to him?” But remember that they acted on their desire. They recognized the star and the journeyed and wandered an unknown road, with gifts in hand, trying to find this newborn king. God wants us to know him, but he tends to respect what we do with that gift of free will he gave to us. As you recognize or remember that you want God to be real to you, imitate the wise men and seek him out. Speak to him about that desire in prayer. Seek his face in the faces of your family and friends. Go to him in the poor. He is looking for you.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.