A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
Most Jewish and Christian scholars believe that the prophecy of Isaiah was written by three authors at three different times. Today’s reading is from the last section of the prophecy, written at the end of the Babylonian Exile more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus. It was a time of great joy as the former captives returned to their homeland. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you…. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”
The Church reads this passage today because, in the birth of Jesus, this promise and more has come true. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophesies and all the promises from God.
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The psalmist knew when he wrote this, thousands of years ago that it was not true, but he prayed that it would be some day.
A reading from the Letter to the Ephesians
(Chapter 3:2-3a, 5-6)
Paul writes, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” The mystery he is referring to is God’s plan for salvation through Jesus. However, salvation is not only for Jews. “The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body.”
Most of the early Christians were Jews, and many of them thought that Jesus came only for them. He certainly did come to proclaim the reign of God to Israel, but Paul makes it clear that salvation is for all people. We are all called to be a part of “the same body.” Paul dedicated his ministry to all people and traveled far and wide to reach the Gentiles. The Church of the apostles that you and I live in and believe in is inclusive and not only in terms of ethnicity or nationality. Pope Francis refers to himself as a sinner. We are all sinners—a Church of sinners forgiven and saved by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to always reach out with our arms and our hearts to those who have felt excluded or alienated from our Church.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
There has always been speculation about who the magi were. The best answer is that we do not know, but the important clue Matthew gives is that they came from the East, meaning they were gentiles. Matthew wanted his predominately Jewish audience to know that their Messiah was recognized far beyond their community. He is a universal savior. Our Church is universal, more than a billion people scattered across the earth. Do you feel connected to any of these far-flung communities? Many of them live in poverty and are persecuted in places such as Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Pakistan. Let us pray in solidarity with them.
In the last century, we prayed for the conversion of Communist Russia and freedom for what were called the Iron Curtain countries. Let us pray now for the freedom from hunger and poverty and persecution that billions of our brothers and sisters suffer today.
May you have a Happy and Healthy New Year!
Photo by Inbal Malca on Unsplash.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.