Epiphany of the Lord Year – B – 15
Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3,5-6; Mt.2:1-12
On an extremely cold morning three palm fruit farmers were warming themselves by the fireside. Soon two of them were engaged in a heated debate comparing their religions to decide which one was the true religion. Okoro, the oldest among them, sat quietly listening to the debate. Suddenly the two turned to him and asked, “Decide for us, Okoro. Which religions is the right one?”
Okoro rubbed his white beard and said thoughtfully, “Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the oil mill. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.”
He paused and then added, “But you know when you get there, the mill man doesn’t ask you how you came. All he asks is, ‘Man, how good is your fruit?’” The wondrous truth we celebrate during this time of Christmas is that God in His love has journeyed from the heavens above all the way down to us. We will never comprehend that stupendous journey, the enormity of God’s love for us, a love that is infinite in its length, height, and depth.
Love will not rest until it achieves union and rests in intimacy. And so God in His quest is here, not only here among us but living deep within us. That is the story of Christmas and Epiphany. What is not of this world has entered into our world, and not only into our world but into us. We know that Christmas-time is the busiest time of the year for travelling. It is the time when we reunite with our families.
When we travel we go to our maps, we call up MapQuest on our computers, and we enter our destinations into our GPS systems. But what are we looking for? In other words, “If you don’t know where you are going you might not get there.” So, we might ask: “Do I really know what I want and how to get there? What sort of a spiritual MapQuest am I using in my travel, in my journey through life?
Today’s Gospel account begins with the question of the Wise Men: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? Where do we find Him?” Many people in the world around us ask that same question. Perhaps some have asked you that question. The question “Where do we find Him” has within it a quest, a searching, a journey. The word “question,” we must note, has within it the word “quest.”
We all have our own quests, our own journeys that we are making through life. What are we looking for, material things or spiritual things, things that will last or things that won’t last? What is material won’t last, what is spiritual is everlasting. What is material eventually leads to darkness; what is spiritual leads us into God’s light, a light that has overcome darkness that surrounds us.
What is spiritual frees us, what is material captures us. For us, the question is not what we are looking for but rather who we are looking for. Epiphany is all about movement, all about our journey. The Magi had access to what the forces of nature revealed to them. The Star of Bethlehem was their heavenly GPS system guiding them to the destination they were seeking.
Herod the king was blinded in the darkness of his jealously and hatred. The Magi, who were themselves kings, sought the kingship of God. The Magi made their journey to seek the King of the Jews. Herod, a Jew, sought to kill the King of the Jews, the King who was sent by God not only to the Jews but to all of the peoples of this world. That is why at Christmas we celebrate the birth of the King of the Jews.
At Epiphany we celebrate the birth of Christ the King of us all, Jew and gentile alike. Ours is a journey of hope, a hope that is given substance by our faith in Jesus Christ. The journey of the Wise Men wasn’t just their own. Their journey is ours also. We are fellow travelers with those Wise Men. Wise men today still seek Him. Ours is a life-time journey.
The Magi were able to overcome that dangerous moment of darkness before Herod, because they believed the Scriptures, the words of the prophets which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And so they fled the darkness and dreariness of the night of the world. They resumed their journey towards Bethlehem and there they once more saw the star, and the gospel tells us that they experienced “a great joy” (Mt 2:10).
One aspect of the light which guides us on the journey of faith is holy “cunning”. This holy “cunning” is also a virtue. It consists of a spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and avoid it. The Magi used this light of “cunning” when, on the way back, they decided not to pass by the gloomy palace of Herod, but to take another route.
These wise men from the East teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness and how to defend ourselves from the shadows which seek to envelop our life. By this holy “cunning”, the Magi guarded the faith. We too need to guard the faith, guard it from darkness. We need to cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness, as Jesus told his disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16).
On the feast of the Epiphany, as we recall Jesus’ manifestation to humanity in the face of a Child, may we sense the Magi at our side, as wise companions on the way. Their example helps us to lift our gaze towards the star and to follow the great desires of our heart. They teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and powerful.
The Magi are a symbol of our own journeys, journeys to the home from which we came, journeys back home to God our Father. We cannot claim that we do not know the way or do not know how to get there. Following in Jesus’ way of living, seeing the truth that He gives us, and living life in loving union with Him is not our destination. It is rather our journey.
We are empowered by the hope that He gives us. All journeys begin with hope. Hope, we must remember, isn’t simply wishful thinking. Hope isn’t simply a nice feeling. Hope is a virtue, a power, a capacity that is a gift of God. Without hope we do not act. Every decision we make is based on hope. Without hope we are paralyzed. Without hope we are powerless.
May you and I join the Wise Men both in their journey and in giving our gifts of our heart to the One who is God’s gift to us.