On November 19th, 2006, Cardinal Ambrozic consecrated our church. Just before the ceremony began the choir sang a hymn titled “All are welcome” the refrain of the hymn was “all are welcome in this place.” Today’s feast of the Epiphany is all about “all are welcome.” The first reading from Isaiah tells of a future time when the kingdom of Israel is restored and returns to faithfulness to God, then kings and nations will come to bask in its light, exiles from far away will come home. All are welcome in this place.
St. Paul shocks the Jewish Christians of Ephesus when he tells them the shocking truth, “the Gentiles, the non Jews are their fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” All are welcome for in Christ there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female – all are one in Christ, all are welcome.
We hear in this story of the Magi following the star of God’s grace, seeking the new born king of the Jews, this same truth. This new born king has come for people of every land and nation and all are welcome.
One of the plagues of every religion has been the conviction that they have an exclusive ownership of God. You can’t get into heaven if you don’t know the password which only they can give you. This is why we’ve had such a long history of sectarian and religious conflicts. This is why we have tensions in our present society with the rise of radical fundamentalists – be they Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhists, whatever. People who are convinced they have the truth and unless you agree with them, you are lost.
Just recently a group known as Pew Forum did a survey asking people whether or not they believed that people who did not share their faith would go to heaven. 65% of those who responded said yes. This upset a number of Evangelicals. They maintained that the question was not asked properly. So the Forum did it again making sure the question was as clear as possible. This time around the percentage of those who believed that those who did not share their faith would still go to heaven was 60% – again much to the consternation of some leading evangelicals. Thank God that we are finally getting the message of this feast, that Jesus came for all people and all are welcome. The way St. Peter expressed this truth was when he was a guest at the house of the centurion Cornelius, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” All are welcomed; all are embraced by the crucified and risen Christ. How that will be worked out in the lives of persons who do not share our Christian faith will be worked out in God’s embracing love for us all.
What does this feast have to say to us? Maybe it can challenge us to look at the way we see and accept men and women of other faiths, cultures and lifestyles. Do we allow ourselves to be limited by our own bigotry, prejudice or discriminations? Do we exclude people from our lives, because of who they are, or what they believe, or how they live? Are we ready to accept the message of this feast of the Epiphany: “all are welcome”?
As we continue to celebrate this feast which challenges us to be happy with its wonderful truth “all are welcome” we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we put aside our prejudices and be willing to accept others for who and what they are; sons and daughters of our loving God, redeemed by the blood of Christ crucified. May we live the wonderful truth, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free but we are all one in the Christ Who loved us and gave His life for us all.