Like the Magi, may we also journey and be attentive, untiring and courageous on the path to find the invisible God who was born among us.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) January 6, 2017
We’re nearly at the end of the Christmas season. Today we celebrate an important part our story – Epiphany – where the Magi travel from a foreign land to present to Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12.) This Gospel is presented to us along with a particularly hopeful passage from Isaiah (60:1-6), which speaks of the light having come into the world, and a short excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a, 5-6) where Paul discusses the revelation of Christ in his particular time and place. The full text of the readings is available on the USCCB website, which you can read by clicking here.
What is it about this event that makes the Epiphany such an important feast?According to the dictionary an epiphany is “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.” This is the experience of the three magi and their journey with the star. It presents to us a model and example for what we ought to be and do in all the ways we come know understand and know Christ ourselves.
Imagine the scene. These three wise men (we guess there was three of them because of the gifts they later give) are searching the skies for some spiritual message. When they spot it this new star, they believe something significant had happened – the birth of a new king. God used this belief of theirs to take them on a spiritual journey. He didn’t impose a more ‘accurate’ understanding of what was going on either scientific (was this a comet? a supernova?) or theological (giving them a clear understanding of the Abrahamic covenant and the promised Messiah). Their journey began in the place they were, with the understanding which they had of the world… and God used that to lead them to an encounter with Christ.
Their response to this sign in the sky is beautiful. They in turn, convinced of the gravity of what has happened leave home to seek out the new king. They do so without knowing where their journey would lead, what it would cost, or whom they would encounter. When they arrived at the home of a simple carpenter and his wife, it might have been tempting to question what had led them on this journey in the first place and whether this was indeed what they were looking for… but the Gospel says that they prostrated themselves before the holy infant (Matthew 2:11) and offered this child the gifts they had brought with them: gifts of tremendous value and symbolism.
As we prepare to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, I wonder to myself just what sort of impact this encounter with Christ had on them? After they leave “by a different way” (Matthew 2:12), these three fall out of the Gospel story and into history- (though you can visit a shrine dedicated to them, within which is a reliquary said to contain their earthly remains, in Cologne, Germany.)
There’s a few lessons for us in their story, although they only occupy these few verses in the Gospel. The first is a reminder that God meets us where we are, as we are, and doesn’t impose some sense of understanding upon us we can’t handle. The second is that when we recognize His call to go on a spiritual journey, we need to do so with the same sense of total abandonment as these three from the east carried with them. And finally, once we encounter Him, we need to allow Him to shatter our preconceptions and lead us to a deeper understanding of what it is He is doing in our world – and in our own hearts. As they left their precious gifts with Christ, we too need to do the same – not only offering Him the gifts and talents He has given us, but also the gift of a life lived for Him. We, too, should let a moment of encounter with Christ leave us irreversibly transformed… this is the lesson and the challenge which the feast of Epiphany brings to us each year.
(I’ve been away from the office for a Christmas break, so I’ll get back to making videos next week!)