Jan 4, 2013

Epiphany - an unexpected journey


"They prostrated themselves and did him homage" 
Is 60: 1-6
Eph 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2: 1-12

In the recent movie, The Hobbit: An unexpected journey, movie magic is at its most creative.  Gandolf the wizard, all the drawrfs, trolls, hobbits and of course the most familiar of them all, Bilbo Baggins take their respective roles.  While I’m tempted to write a personal movie review, the very title of the movie seems appropriate for this Sunday’s beloved feast of the Epiphany – “an unexpected journey.”

We may not be as familiar with the complex characters and scenes of Tolkien’s monumental work, The Hobbit, but we certainly are well acquainted with those of King Herod, the Magi, the Christ child and his Mother Mary.

In the movie, at the instigation of Gandolf the wizard, this diminutive group sets out, along with the somewhat reluctant “Mr. Baggins” on what is sure to become an adventure of danger, relief, battle between good and evil, all in the ultimate quest for the reclaiming of a magical city and the restoration of a peaceful life.  And so they set out on a journey that was unexpected and sure to provide plenty of adventure.

So too, the magi set out in quest not for a city but for a person, a King whose star has appeared in the sky according to their astrological calculations. Tradition tells us they are from ancient Persia (present day Iran and Iraq) from the land “where the sun rises.” We know nothing of how their journey went but surely they were determined to find the person – the newborn King of the Jews, “. . . to do him homage” (Mt 2: 1-12) as they described to King Herod after arriving in Jerusalem.

The story of the three Magi is as familiar as that of the shepherds, the singing angels, Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  What nativity scene would ever be without the magi and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?

This richly symbolic feast is ripe with meaning for our lives. We too are on a quest. Sometimes it is fraught with danger, at times we find ourselves questioning, exhausted, discouraged, but in the end what keeps us going is our desire for something more – success, fulfillment, meaning and purpose. We hope for something or someone that will last.

The story of the Magi and the finding of Christ contrasts two powers: earthly and heavenly – Herod and Jesus. The very presence of these strange visitors, the unexpected non-Jews who arrived in Jerusalem, provoked curiosity on the part of Herod – “What do they want?”

Once Herod heard of their search, “. . . he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him . . .” Why?  Scared of a baby?  No, fearful that power would be taken from him.  By contrast Jesus appears gently, quietly and the one who would bring the Gentile world to its knees, while the chosen people of God would for the most part reject him.

Do we see a future here? In the sign of the Magi we see the future destiny of this child whose power would forever trump that of earthly kings, queens, presidents, premiers, governments. His mission will go beyond that of Jerusalem and will be embraced by a pagan people searching for greater meaning and purpose.  Christ Jesus alone can bring all that we long for. Not by force and destruction but by the power of truth and love.  As the chief priests and scribes quoted the scriptures to King Herod: “And you Bethlehem . . . from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”     

While Herod is fearful of power that might be taken from his hands, the Magi rejoice at who they found and offer him appropriate royal gifts.

In our celebration of the Eucharist, are we not also on a journey of sorts?  We hear from the Scripture which reveals the never-ending love of a God who is in search for us, who comes in to our history and our lives, who invites us to find him.

We walk towards the Altar and there receive the “star” of the show then once we find him, we leave and set out to “glorify the Lord by our lives.” Like the unexpected journey in the movies we are changed and like the Magi we have a story of our own to tell that will inspire others to set out on a journey of their own.  

Am I searching for a what or a who? How do I satisfy my spiritual needs or do I suppose that only the latest gadget, I-phone, computer, relationship will give me all I need?  What sort of “unexpected journey” might I undertake in this new year?