Is. 60:1-6; Eph. 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt. 2:1-12
The First Reading from the Book of Isaiah speaks of a prophecy that was made approximately seven hundred years prior to the birth of Jesus. In those days the Israelites were rejoicing because after years of captivity they were finally allowed to return to the holy city Jerusalem. The prophecy of Isaiah gave them hope that the promised Messiah would soon rise among the people and that His glory would be seen by all. The prophecy of Isaiahconcluded with the words,"They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord." [Is. 60:6] These words echoed the gifts that the three wise men from the East [Mt. 2:1-2, 9-11] brought to Jesus in adoration after following the shining star in the sky.
Today's Gospel Reading relates to us the event of the three wise men who followed the star that led them to the Child Jesus. The magi who studied stars and were convinced that stars told a story to men. They had never seen a new star before. Stars told them about the world. This new star was telling them that the world was being renewed. Great heroes, great people had stars or even constellations looking down on them. This new star had to belong to the greatest of people. It was looking down on any who would be willing to learn its message. The star was moving. So the Magi set off from their lands in the East on a journey. They did not wonder if they would be able to complete the journey. They were supporting each other in their determination to complete the journey. They were convinced that the star they saw announced a new king who would be the King of Kings.
Twenty hikers gathered early in the morning at the trail head outside of Brekinridge, Colorado, waiting for the guide. On their way they had seen the top of the mountain, Mt Quandary, but now they were too close to see anything other than the trail and the forest. The hikers were between 16 and 55, all in fairly good shape. They were from the East, New York to be exact, and knew very little about hiking up a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. So they hired a park ranger on his day off to guide them. At first, they started off with a brisk pace, full of enthusiasm, but an hour into the hike most were panting from the effort as well as the altitude. Some weren’t sure they could make it to the top, but they supported each other, encouraged each other, and kept following the guide. Then they crossed the tree line and could see the bald head of the Quandary summit. More encouragement was needed for even the strongest of them, but they continued the journey to its conclusion. They stood on the peak and could see most of the Eastern Colorado Rockies. There was Mount Evans. And when they looked carefully to the south, they saw Pike’s Peak. It was beautiful. They left very happy, not just from what they saw, but for how they completed the journey.
The Magi’s long journey was nearly complete near a big palace. They had not found the Baby in the beauty and luxury of that royal palace, as they had expected. Probably they were looking for the baby in a great palace. That expectation had disappointed them.
There is a story about king of Balakh, Ebrahim ibn Adam. "One night he roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: 'Who's there?' 'A friend,' came the reply from the roof. 'I've lost my camel.' Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: 'You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?' 'You fool!' the voice from the roof answered. 'Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?'
The camel on the roof raises the Epiphany question, Where are we looking for God?
From the Palace of Herod the Magi followed the star to where it seemed to rest – over a humble dwelling, amongst domestic animals, lying in a rough-hewn manger. They had brought gifts for the infant-King: they knew that his coming was a cause of great joy and celebration to the world, so they gave him gold. They knew that he would live a life in close relationship with God in prayer (which he would encourage all people to nurture) so they gave him Frankincense. They knew also that he would endure the excruciating pain of a brutal human death, so they gave him Myrrh. Then they went on their way, returning home by another route that avoided Herod’s palace, as they had been told to in a dream.
If we’re looking, the signs of God’s presence are all around us, as much outside the church as inside. God is there in the trees and ocean and sky...in the deer and the geese and everywhere. God is in the labour room and the funeral home. God is in the face of the homeless man sleeping on the grate and in the face of the child who puts a dollar in his hat.
We all meet God in different ways and at different times and places in our lives. The message of Epiphany is that the revelation of God is talking about more than a one-shot deal. It’s not that Jesus came once and that was all. No, there was Easter...that bright and glorious morning. The tomb was empty. He appeared and disappeared out of rooms. He was now here on the beach having breakfast and now there walking with disciples who had no clue who they were talking to.
The message of Epiphany is that God is alive and appearing here there and everywhere in the hopes that somebody will tune in to the right frequency. The God who was made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth lives and was made manifest somewhere, somehow in our home this very morning. The message of Epiphany is, “Keep watch!” For we don’t know the day or the hour when God will appear. Keep our eyes open for a star that might burst forth in the dark night of our soul. And those stars do burst forth. Sometimes it's the star that's seen in the wisdom of a little child; sometimes it's the unexpected action of a caring friend; sometimes it’s the words we hear in the Readings at Mass or in a homily.
A husband asked his wife, "Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?" She replied, "Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions."
During this Christmas season we should be able to keep away our pride and accept God’s presence when God manifests himself to us.