I mentioned last week that the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, which entails the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Savior, was celebrated in our family as “Little Christmas.” We kept our stockings hung by the fireplace right through the Christmas Octave and right up to this Feast today. And, if we had been good, we received little gifts that fit in our stocking. So it is a most relevant celebration in our Christmas time, however beneath the joy this event provides, there are some significant contrasts provided us in today’s Gospel passage, consider that those who should accept the news about the birth of Jesus the Messiah, want to reject him. Yet the Magi from the faraway East, come to pay him homage. Jesus, King of the Jews, is born in the most-humble of surroundings, while Herod the Great, a vassal king, lives in luxury.
It is quite shocking that the first people to recognize that the newborn Jesus was the king of the Jews, the long- awaited Messiah, were these Magi from the East. They were outsiders, followers of Zoroaster, the god of time. But wise men that they were, they were drawn by the great star to Bethlehem. And we should be mindful that these Magi came to Bethlehem not just to witness this new born King of the Jews, but to explicitly do Him homage. By great contrast, King Herod finds the presence of the Magi quite disturbing. Their seeming knowledge about a new born King, and his own ignorance of that matter, upsets him greatly. Immediately, he schemes to get more information about the Messiah’s birth so that he can have Him eliminated. These Magi are always portrayed as manifesting a great sense of nobility, yet King Herod is described as being filled with fear and paranoia. And all of his advisers, the chief priests and scribes, share King Herod’s consternation.
The star continues its mission of guiding the Magi to the location of the newborn King of the Jews. As soon as the Magi see the child, they bow down and do him homage. It is important to note that even though Mary is present, the Magi focus all their attention on the child. He is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord! According to the customs of hospitality, the Magi present gifts to the newborn King of the Jews. Gold is a precious metal, frankincense was a rich perfume, and myrrh was an oil for anointing. Some see the gift of myrrh as pointing to the ultimate saving death of this Child. So, this has been a truly exceptional manifestation of the newborn King of the Jews. The outsiders have become the insiders, while the insiders remained confused.
This seemingly strange event was yet another in a series of them experienced by Mary and Joseph. Think about it there was the enunciation of a virginal conception and birth. This was followed by Joseph’s dream and then this holy birth taking place in a crude shelter where animals were fed, referred to as a manger with unsterilized straw serving as a crib. On the surface this would look like a scenario where everything has gone wrong and a sequel to this was the midnight flight from Herod’s death squad and the massacre of all the holy innocents. A great new star in the heavens… multiple Angel warnings and messages… all required strong, blind trust and faith in God’s providence by Joseph and Mary.
We need to be mindful that God is also involved in our lives, just as surely as He was in the lives of Mary and Joseph. While none of us is as high profile as Mary and Joseph we need to be mindful that each of us is as important and plays a role in God’s design. During our lifetimes, it’s unlikely we will see or even envision all these future scenarios we will have a part in causing or shaping. Well, neither did Mary and Joseph. Nor, for that matter, the Magi themselves. The grand design of our Creator is full of infinitely complex domino-effects, many of which stretch across the centuries. God’s involvement in our lives does not mean God causes bad things from small headaches to tragic events. But when bad things do happen, God is able to draw new births out of the ashes of misfortune…even tragedy. We don’t always see those rebirths in our lifetime. In the aftermath of a loved one’s unexpected premature death, in the caustic confusion of a bitter divorce, in the sudden frightening freefall of a financial collapse… All we can do is hold on to our blind trust that God is still holding us, still guiding us, still loving us, drawing us to join him for all eternity.
So let us reciprocate and return that love, caring and trust. Unlike the Magi, the presence of our Savior is within reach of all of us… no extensive travel required. Let us make this year, one in which we take heed, and focus on our accessibility of the Real Presence, of that newborn Man-made-God, right here in our church Tabernacle. The Magi taught us a lesson, as did the contrasting Jewish ambivalence, indifference, and rejection accorded to the Savior’s arrival more than 2,000 years ago. You can subscribe to no better resolution for this new year than to devote one hour each week to acknowledge and show Him that you truly do believe, adore, hope and love Him. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Have a happy, healthy and blessed New Year,