for the Feast of the Epiphany
January 7, 2007 - Cycle C
We three kings of Orient are; Bearing gifts we
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night; star with royal beauty bright –
Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy Perfect Light.
The poetic words of our familiar Christmas song as well as the opening prayer of our Mass have called us back to Bethlehem. In our gospel reading, St. Matthew has given us his lovely postscript to the Nativity story, completing for us our Christmas tableau with the arrival of the "wise men from the East", bringing their symbolic gifts.
For our ancestors in the faith and for us as well, this has always been a cherished gospel page. Christian imagination over the centuries has embellished the story with colorful details, elevating the magi to royal dignity and giving them number and names - Casper, Melchior and Balthasar - our Christmas memories would never be complete without them!
My homily this morning will be a very simple one. I invite all of you together to join in a contemplative moment. Standing in spirit before that Bethlehem scene, eyes fixed on the three royal pilgrims, we ask ourselves: "How does this story of the Magi speak to our own experience and lead us closer to Our Divine Lord?
I think we can discover the convergence of their story and ours in three simple statements. They were people on pilgrimage. They were guided by the light of a star. Their faith was equal to the Divine Surprise which awaited them at journey’s end.
Are we not also a people on pilgrimage, fellow travelers whose quest is Christ?. We look more closely at the three of them and we see the dust of the road on their garments and their faces furrowed with the aching weariness of their long journey.. Their land of origin was in all likelihood, Persia, all of twelve hundred miles from Bethlehem - most of it desert, some of it mountainous, all of it beset with danger. It was no easy road they traveled, and being human, they must have had their days of discouragement when they said to one another: "Maybe we are foolish to follow this impossible dream. Maybe we should turn back before it is too late." Like the wise men, we, too, have our times of doubt and discouragement when the journey seems too long and the road too rough and we are tempted to turn aside. It would be foolish to pretend that our journey of faith is always a comfortable and cushioned road. We, everyone of us, learn from experience, the difficulties that impede our personal quest for Christ. But like them, we must be steadfast, strong in the conviction that the Prize is worth the Price.
Our second convergence - they were guided by a star. Is there not a spontaneous symbolism here - one that transcends every barrier of race or culture and speaks to our basic human experience, our need for some continuing source of strength and reassurance from outside ourselves? We think of the magi scanning the night sky and charting their course by their guiding star like the beckoning finger of God. They looked up and found the strength and reassurance which kept them moving forward.. And so, too, with us. Like them, all of us need our stars to guide us - not a light in the sky but a light in our lives. Sometimes it will be an interior grace, a light in prayer, piercing our darkness and reassuring us that we are on the right way or calling us back, if we have been lured away. Often it will be some special person who lights up our lives, someone whose radiant goodness makes God real for us and reinforces the urgency of our sacred quest.
One final convergence - the "Bethlehem Moment". St. Matthew captures it for us, describing how, leaving Herod and his courtiers behind them, the wise men followed their star the few remaining miles to where it shone brightest and most beckoning and they found the Infant, tiny, helpless, totally human, cradled in His Mother’s arms. What was their reaction? Dismay? Disillusionment? Soul-shattering Disappointment? None of these! Rather - Wonderment - Awe! Adoration! "And prostrating themselves, they worshiped Him." The evangelist tells us of the gifts they brought - but far more precious than what they held in their hands was the gift they offered out of their hearts. They worshiped Him. This was truly the Bethlehem Moment, the grand crescendo of our Christmas symphony. They worshiped Him. Explore the wealth of meaning in those three golden words! They express Faith brought to life. They mean total surrender into the Wonder of the Incarnation. They identify forever those truly wise men. They are the very first converts of Our Incarnate God.
The Bethlehem Moment! Right here we find our most meaningful convergence - their story and our story. It is to this that we, all of us, are continually being called - not just during the Christmas Season, but all through the year - every day of our lives. This is the Meaning of Conversion. Together with the Magi, we are called to a like enthrallment - Kneeling with them, we worship Him, Jesus - for them and for us, "our Perfect Light".