The four years I spent in Hong Kong after completing undergraduate studies in Canada were easily one of the lowest points of my life, if not the lowest. Strange as it may sound, I just couldn’t blend in well with the city’s hectic pace of life and its social and cultural fabrics even though it was my birthplace and I grew up there. I kept looking for a way out but found none. Eventually with God’s blessing my application to migrate to Canada was unexpectedly approved. As soon as the news came, my world, that had seemed so stagnant and boxed in for four long years, suddenly came alive. Marriage, further studies, career, family – critical issues and plans that had been held back indefinitely due to uncertainty of future suddenly could go full speed ahead. Sweet was life when hopes and promises were plentiful and the future clearly made known.
If hopes, promises, and clarity of future are important for this life, imagine how much more important it is to have the same when dealing with the abstracts and mysteries of the eternal life. Where can we find true hopes and promises that will lead us to eternal happiness? How can our future be ascertained? Over the centuries, these are questions unanswerable to many a brilliant-minded scholar or philosopher. However, those whose hearts are simple as a child will find that the answers are readily available in the Bible. It provides hopes and promises in great abundance and lets us know clearly where we go from here and how.
The value of the Bible in this regard is made abundantly clear in the Mass readings of the Epiphany of the Lord. In the first reading, Trito Isaiah, generally believed to be Isaiah’s disciples who wrote during the restoration of the Jerusalem temple, assured Judah that in spite of the woes and chaos of the post-exilic time, glorious days for Jerusalem were ahead. Not only would she recover fully from many years of devastation, she would also become the shining light for all nations.
Shining light for ALL nations? Talk is cheap. It would surely take a miracle for the lowly and downtrodden Jerusalem to become the glorious crown that God promised through Trito Isaiah.
A miracle we sought, and a miracle was what we got. The promise, as it turned out, was to be fulfilled by the Church that Jesus instituted for the salvation and sanctification of all nations – the Church that is one, holy, Catholic (universal, for all nations), and apostolic; the Church where Christ, the King, would take his throne; the Church that in God’s will is to become the New Jerusalem. This is why we chant in the Responsorial Psalm, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you” (Ps 72:11); and why St. Paul shared the same hope and promise in the second reading, “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).
Sounds great but where was the Savior who was to come to perform the said miracle? There, “born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod” (Mt. 2:1) was the infant Jesus, the Savior of all nations; there, above his poor and humble birthplace the star from Jacob would shine as prophet Balaam had predicted (c.f. Numbers 24:17); and there, prostrating before him were the magi, representing all nations from afar and bringing with them the homage of humanity as it journeyed toward Christ (see Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives, p.97), so we hear in the gospel reading.
Hopes, promises, and future – if there’s any difference between those we experience in our daily lives and those brought to us by the Bible, it’s that while both are uplifting and assuring, only the latter have the finality of complete certainty and guaranteed fulfillment because God's “words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 22:6).