Today we celebrate the Epiphany. Through the visit of the Magi, the baby Jesus is revealed as the Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of the World, longed hoped for by the people of Israel. There are at least three lessons from the wonderings of the Magi, or three kings or wise men as they are familiarly called.
First is the recognition that divine revelation is necessary to enhance what we can learn on our own, faith and reason are complementary. We don’t know it all. When the Magi, certainly learned men, saw the star, they likely studied it, theorized about it, discussed it and finally determined that their knowledge was not enough. They had to follow it to discover where it led, what it meant. It was not until they stopped in Jerusalem and the inspired scriptural prophecies were proclaimed to them, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, that the missing link in understanding was revealed to them by God through the chief priests and scribes
There are many in our day who believe that we humans can know everything if only we try hard enough, or develop enough technology. Some already believe they have all the answers and that we should follow them and not Christ. Sadly they usually lead us into moral difficulties and division, which results in disrespect for all human life.
A Native American Catholic nun told of a custom in her family. When she was born her mother and her father each put two things into a leather pouch. Her mother put in a pinch of dirt from the state of Texas where she was born and a piece of the umbilical cord from her birth. They were to remind her that she did not start out by herself, but that she came from a certain land and from certain parents, and was therefore ever tied to that land and to her family. Her father put in a bird feather which was to remind her that she was gifted with life to soar like a bird and find her place in the world. The second thing her father put in was never revealed though she tried to get him to tell her. He said it represented the mystery of life, those things man cannot learn for oneself. It was to remind her that God is at the center of life. She said that bag taught her the importance of knowing we are tied to places and to people, this world, but most fully we are tied to the mysteries of life, to God. The magi could not understand the meaning of the mystery of the star without it having been revealed to them by God.
The second lesson is that there had to be within them a willingness to accept what was revealed to them, Jesus as the Messiah. It required a letting go of the barriers that stood in their way from surrendering to God’s gift of his Son. And so it is with us. We need to open our hearts to Christ
A woman told of hiring a professional mover to pack and move her things to her new home. She was asked what she wanted packed. ‘Everything,’ she replied. So when she arrived at her new home, she opened a box and discovered that they had packed everything including her garbage. The box was full of old newspapers, empty bottles and grapefruit peelings. Her point was that we cannot begin anew if we take our garbage with us. We cannot fully experience the beauty of accepting Christ as Lord and Savior unless we leave behind our sins and hurts, conventional wisdom and secular influences, peer pressures and prejudices, whatever garbage there might be.
The third lesson is that the Magi had to leave behind the familiar and go on a journey into the unknown. We are asked to pray in a special way for those who are discerning God’s call to any of the beautiful God given vocations, married life, single life, ordained or consecrated life and then to live them to the full. Each of them requires a willingness to go forth on a unique journey into the unknown, trusting in God’s will and God’s way.
There is a legend about the Magi, traditionally known as Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior. It says that Gaspar was a very young man, Balthazar was middle aged, and Melchior was an old man like me. When they arrived in Bethlehem they went into the stable to see Jesus one at a time. When Melchior the old man went in, there was no one there but another man his age with whom he was quickly comfortable. They spoke of the need to learn the lessons from the past and share them with gratitude. When middle aged Balthazar entered he encountered a middle aged teacher and they talked of the need for providing good and moral leadership and taking responsibility in life as mentors and stewards of God’s gifts. When the young Gaspar entered he met a young prophet and they spoke of the need for openness to change without compromising truth and anticipating the promise of the future with hope which the incarnation of Jesus represents. Then the three returned to the stable together. There before them was the infant Jesus. The moral of the legend is that our Savior speaks to us at all stages of life, calls us all to lives of holiness and integrity, all of us have a responsible role to play in building up the kingdom of God. We just need to be open to the unknown, trusting in God’s will and God’s way.
To respond like the Magi, we must live with the mysteries of life, resting in God; we must put away those barriers the garbage that prevent us from accepting Christ as personal savior, living up to the moral standards he taught and his church defends; and we must venture forth on our journey of faith into the unknown of tomorrow with hope.
The magi followed the star though they did not know where it would lead them. The shepherds left their field and flock although they did not fully understand what the angels were inviting them to experience. The Apostles left their daily routine to answer his call. Do we have their inquisitiveness and courage? Every day our Lord invites each of us to follow our divinely placed star, which means to follow Him wherever he leads and allow him walk with us as our friend and savior. He awaits our response.