Epiphany of the Lord Reflection by Michael Bayer

Look to the margins.

If you desire to see the face of Christ in the world, look to the margins. This is one of the most important themes of the Gospel, and it has never been more necessary than at the start of 2019.

This message is epitomized by the Visit of the Magi commemorated in the feast we refer to as “The Epiphany.” The word comes to us from the Greek epipháneia, meaning “appearance” or “manifestation.” It was used to describe the sun at dawn, which is perfectly apt since Jesus is “the light of the human race,” and, as the Gospel of John tells us, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

For many of us, 2018 felt like a year of darkness. The Catholic Church was devastated by a new round of revelations regarding the systematic coverup of child abuse by the very people entrusted with care of the flock. Mass shootings seemed almost a daily occurrence, from the teenagers killed in Parkland, Florida, to the congregation massacred at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. 570 homicides here in Chicago. More than 22,000 lives lost nationally to suicide, more than 60,000 deaths due to drug overdoses. And many millions of grieving friends and family left to try and heal from unimaginable pain.

So, as 2019 begins, where is our hope? We sing, “Joy to the World,” this Christmas season, but what cause do we have for joy?

The hope and the joy are to be found at the margins. In the arms of a poor teenage mother and her devoted husband who cradle a vulnerable baby in their arms during a cold, dark night in a remote town in the middle of nowhere. A most unlikely place for God to choose to enter human history. The Magi are confused—they understandably presume that a newborn king would be located in the capital of that kingdom, and so they go to Jerusalem, only to be told, “He’s not here.”

We, too, must look to the margins if we wish to find Christ. Our cause for hope is not in the pope or the president. Our reason for joy is not the College of Cardinals or a Congressional Caucus. The rebirth of the Church will not be the result of a bishops’ gathering, but already is taking place every day in school classrooms and parish sacristies.

The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God—the religious ed catechists helping children learn about Jesus; the hospital chaplains sitting with families as they watch a loved one depart for eternal life; the choir members practicing parts for the Easter Vigil. They—you—are the cause for hope and joy this Christmas season. You, the parents who persevere in bringing your children to Mass, who sit patiently in the stands at interminable youth sporting events, who find the energy to make sandwiches for school lunches after you’ve worked a twelve hour day.

Look to the margins; look in the mirror. The light of the world isn’t in the halls of Congress or the corridors of a chancery, but in the faces of the people sitting in the pew next to you, and in the many millions around the world united by faith in Christ. Hope is not naive optimism; joy is not superficial happiness. In the darkness of winter, we rejoice that the light of the world has arrived, and we dare to hope that the darkness—even the darkness of the present moment—cannot overcome it.