Epiphany Year A.
AIM: To present the story of the Magi as a paradigm of the Christian life.
Who were these “magi” who were guided to the infant Jesus by a star? Where did they come from? Where did they go? We do not know. To discover the story’s riches, we must pay attention to its symbolism. Read in that way, we find that the story has five stages. The magi, whom we also call the wise men, saw; they searched; they found; they worshiped; and they returned home. Let’s take those five stages of their journey in turn.
A farmer kept a flock of tame geese which freely roamed the farmyard, always looking down for food. One day the farmer saw that the geese were nervous and restless. They were looking up. In the sky he saw the reason. It was autumn. Wild geese were flying south. The farmer’s geese flapped their wings and made a lot of noise. But they did not fly away.
Many people are like that. Something unusual happens to raise their minds from life’s routine. They become aware of greater possibilities, a higher call. But they fail to respond. The opportunity passes. The old routine resumes. The wise men were different. They were not content with looking up.
Doing so required courage. How their friends must have mocked them. “Following a star? What on earth for? Have you taken leave of your senses?” To set out in the face of ridicule, on what seemed like a fool’s errand, took courage. Sooner or later, it always takes courage to be a follower of Jesus Christ. His standards cannot always be made reasonable, or even intelligible, to unbelievers. At times the follower of Jesus Christ must have courage to swim against the stream: to say No when everyone else is saying Yes; or Yes when all others are saying No; to appear to reasonable, prudent people reckless, even crazy. The wise men had such courage. They set out on their seemingly mad search, and persevered in it until –
For this they are rightly called “wise men.” To the clever people who mocked them they seemed mad. In reality they possessed, along with courage, the truest wisdom there is: the spiritual insight to recognize the unique call of God, and to follow it regardless of the cost. As their search neared its end, our gospel reading tells us, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” They had reason for joy. They were successful. They were vindicated. It was they who had been proved wise; their critics were the fools. From the wise men’s point of view the search had been all theirs. In reality it was God who was seeking them. That was crucial: for the wise men, but also for us – as we see in a child’s story.
This little one came home in tears. When the child’s mother had dried the tears, she heard the reason for them. “We played side-and-seek. I hid. No one looked for me.” When you are only three, that can be crushing. “No one looked for me.”
Someone is looking for you – right now. God is looking for you. He is drawing you to himself, as he drew the wise men by the star. If only you will look up, and be bold, you will find him. And then, like the wise men, you too will be overjoyed. To know that, even now, God is looking for you, drawing you to himself, is already cause for joy. The wise men’s joy is not the end of the story, however. When they finally arrived at the end of their journey –
Their worship was not merely reciting prayers by memory or from a book. They offered the best they had. The person who has never learned to worship like that is poor indeed. How sad when the Mass, for many Catholics, is merely the boring fulfillment of a legal obligation. No wonder such people habitually come late and hurry away early, complaining that they ‘get nothing out of it.’ We’re not here to get. We’re here to give. So forget about getting. Instead do what the wise men did. Offer God the best you have: something precious, costly. Then you will discover, even if only for a few fleeting minutes, the indescribable joy of self-forgetfulness, the joy of true worship.
After the wise men had worshiped –
They returned home.
They go back to the people who had mocked them when they set out. But they return home changed. They have been touched by their experience, touched by God. They have a message for those who thought themselves wise, but turned out to be foolish.
We return home from church each week, some of us daily, from our encounter with Jesus here in the Eucharist. We too have been touched by God. We too have a message for others. It is this. God is not far off. In all our sorrows, in all our temptations, sufferings, difficulties, and joys, God is with us. God is close to us always – even when we stray far from him. We think that we must storm heaven with our prayers to get God’s attention. And all the time it is God who gives us the ability to pray. It is God who is searching for us, leading us onward, drawing us to himself. That is the message we take home with us. That is the gospel – the good news.
And when we grasp this good news, the story with its five stages begins again: the seeing, the searching, the finding, the worshiping, the return home. This is the story of the Christian life: the royal road by which untold millions have walked, the road God wants you to walk – and me – for the remaining fifty-one weeks of 2017, and for as many more weeks and years as our journey may last. Until it ends in Him; and journeying and searching and struggle are over, because we are home: where there will be no more weariness, no more discouragement, no more sickness or suffering, no more death. Where God himself will wipe away all tears from our eyes. Where we shall experience not just joy, but ecstasy; for we shall see God face to face.