(The Magi: Henry Siddons, 1915)
"They did him homage"
Matthew 2: 1-12
It has been said, and always proves true, that on stage you would never want to follow children. No matter how talented you might be, your performance would never equal that of the cuteness and innocence of a child.
So every year, for example, our school presents its Christmas program. As expected, the Church is filled with parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and of course multiple cameras. Despite the fact that we have more than 100 children performing for those gathered, in the end the parents are really there to see just one child – their own! If I were a parent, I would do the same so it’s very understandable that such childhood memories are treasure by loving parents.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. This story of the visiting Magi from the east, likely the area around Iraq and Mesopotamia, has been a part of the Christmas story since ancient times. It is one of the earliest events to be included in the Nativity drama. Although we may refer to this as the visit of the three kings or the three wise men from the east, in the end, like our Christmas program, it’s all about just one child – the one these magi were searching for – the Christ. All the other details of the story about the moving star, the ruthless King Herod, and Bethlehem are important facts but without this child it makes no sense. So today and throughout the unfolding new year, we are called to turn our lives as the magi did in the direction of this child, born among us, who grew to be seen as our Lord and Savior.
The true point of the story is the recognition by these astrologers of the physical revelation of God in the person of Jesus. But even more authentically, these magi represent the nations who were first to hear the Gospel message by the Apostles who were sent out as missionaries after the Ascension of Jesus. In these Gentile figures, Matthew reveals to us, placed in Jesus very young years, not only the truth of who this child is but what the future would be because of his coming; his destiny. That revelation, or “epiphany,” is at the very foundation of our Christian faith.
The ever distant and mysterious God, forever hidden, now shows himself to us in Christ Jesus, his Son. His coming reveals the mind of God to become the light of all nations, Jew and Gentile alike. God in particular embraces the beauty of human nature to make it whole again in this act of divine mercy; in right relationship with God and offers us the hope of eternal life. No other child born before or after this one has drawn such universal attention and amassed so many followers over the last twenty centuries. It really is ALL about one child and the magi find this one child at the end of their journey and the beginning of another. As a result of a dream, they return to their land by another route for once they’ve encountered this child their lives will never be the same.
We might make some practical applications to our own lives. Where is the measure of my life? Where am I going? If it is true that God has come in the flesh, as the Magi recognized and as our Christian tradition is built upon, then how could any other “power” pull us with the illusion of their greatness? Yet we may have a tendency to not only put away our Christmas decorations but along with them any serious desire to continue our daily search, our daily journey, to discover where this Christ continues to be present in the flesh.
I think a common likely unintended posture many take is to view our rich Christian faith as more of a belief system or a philosophy of life. Many I think remove Jesus Christ from Christianity. We see being Christian as a set of behaviors and we measure our Christianity by how moral we are or by how we treat one another. Certainly, how we live out our faith in concrete actions is indeed a measure but to do so without reference to Jesus, as in imitation of him and according to his teaching, is to live a faith without reference.
Today, the greatest journey is that of the scientific and technological. There seems to be no end to the possibilities and to scientific discovery and the potential of more complex and perfected technology. This star is shining bright today.
Yet, science has its limits. The search of the Magi reminds us that they went in search of a person, not in search of a new philosophy or scientific discovery. Once they found that person, one can assume, as for us, we desire to know more about him and to come to know him more deeply. That is the role of the Church where the Gospel calls us all to conversion of life. To know Christ we can only find him in his fullness within his Church. Science can reveal how things work or what substances combine to produce a result. Technology can wow us with its wonders but neither can produce the deeper meaning and purpose of things.
The Church can reveal to us a rich spirituality that leads us to Christ, a community of faith to which we are attached through Baptism and where we feast on his Word and his sacramental presence especially in the Eucharist. Through the Church we hear the call to mission in the world where we become a star that leads others to Christ and his Body the Church. So, it isn’t just about Jesus alone but all things are then seen in light of him. The Magi laid down their earthly power and wealth to a greater power in Christ Jesus.
In the Church our liturgy, our sacraments, the power of Scriptures and the inspiration and support of a faith community we see Christ again over and over. The Magi did not set out as individuals but as a kind of people on search and in that community they found the Christ. We must then carry on Jesus' mission of love and mercy to make God visible to all around us in his Church and in the World.
“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” With those beautiful words from Isaiah the prophet our liturgy begins this Sunday. The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is filled with the image of light. What kind of light do we bring to others? What sort of journey am I on and who or what am I looking for? Where do I hope to find him? In the end, that search can only lead to one person in the Body of his Church.
O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already buy faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty
of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.