Fr. Charles Irvin
The Solemnity of the Epiphany [C] 2013
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
From Advent until now the readings and themes of our liturgies have all centered on God’s coming to us. The underlying movement has been God seeking us out and offering Himself to us in His Son, in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah first promised to the descendants of Adam and Eve after their Fall.
In today’s Liturgy the basic movement shifts. Now it’s all about our seeking, specifically our seeking out God in His Christ, and by the word “our” I mean all of humanity. The Magi we need to note were not Jews. They were the representatives of the gentile nations and peoples. They were kings who were sages, wise men, visionaries, men who searched beyond what is obvious; searching into the mysterious non-scientific world in which we exist as distinguished from what is merely technical and material.
The word “question” has the word “quest” tucked inside it, an idea that’s presented to us in today’s gospel account given to us by St. Matthew. Epiphany invites us to join in the quest of the Wise Men as well as the quest of all Christian believers seeking to enter into the mystery of God, particularly the mystery of God become incarnate in our humanness.
We live in a world of problems to be solved. A mystery, however, is not a problem to be solved, it is a quest to be lived. A well-known sports figure was asked what his chief ambition in life was. He replied, “My chief ambition is to go to heaven.” The sports writer who was interviewing him thought it was a joke. The ball player responded: “My friend, I don’t think that’s funny. I know you don’t mean to be a smart aleck, but there’s something wrong with a person’s attitude when he’s flippant about the great mysteries of the universe.” And the man who spoke these words was a professional baseball player.
We, too, can be superficial when we miss the point in the account we’ve just heard in today’s gospel. We can get all wrapped up in solving the problem about where the star came from, where it was located in heaven, who the Wise Men really were and where they came from, and exactly how a heavenly star could guide them. So, too, when people try to analyze Christ’s miracles, attempting to explain them away by finding natural causes, completely missing God’s revelation that is made evident to us in them.
The gifts of the Magi are meant to express our human awe and reverence at the true inner nature of the Christ child. Worldly powers, represented by the Three Kings, along with their powers of government over peoples, are placed at His feet. Gold, the currency of kings, is given to Him. Frankincense is the gift given to priests, bringing us into contact with the world of mystery and transcendence. Myrrh is an ointment used in the preparation of a body for burial; it’s significance being quite obvious in terms of this child’s destiny, as well as our own human destiny. Death is a mystery we all enter into as equals, regardless of how important or significant our lives have been during our time here on earth. Death is a mystery to be lived. It not just another problem to be solved.
Mysteries lead to discovery, or more accurately to revelation. When you encounter paradox and mystery, you are close to the gospels. For quite obviously God is bigger, more powerful, and infinitely more than anything we are. Mere data, mere information cannot possibly carry the weight or bear the load of the enormity of Mystery, particularly theological mysteries. The only thing that’s strong enough to bear the full weight of revelation is mystery, along with poetic and symbolic language. Science and technology collapse under the weight of all we must face, and face daily.
There is a motto that tells us: “knowledge is power.” Quite so. But wisdom is superior, deeper, and a far more profound reality than knowledge or understanding. Wisdom is found in the realms of mystery; it’s the only true path to revelation.
We should not let our modern technological world and culture rob us of our innate sense of mystery. We should not let our children be deprived of having a childhood. We should not deprive ourselves of something that children can point to, namely the world of awe, reverence, and mystery. To enter into those realms we must, as Jesus told us, become as little children.
Children, as we all know, love stories. So do we. The infancy narratives surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ are filled with wondrous stories. The legendary story of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the three Wise Men, is a story that invites us to be as little children once again and with awe, reverence, and wonder to enter into the world of Mystery, there to receive God’s revelation.
Is it a story that we regard with distant and unemotional objectivity? Is it merely the subject of cool intellectual curiosity? Or is it a wondrous, mystical story that invites us to embark upon a quest, a journey that was there in the beginning at the birth of our Savior, and a journey or a pilgrimage that Christians have been embarked upon for 2,000 years now?
God has a Word for you. He has something He wants to say to you. God has a vision for you, a revelation to give you. Are you willing to be a seeker and to journey with those Wise Men from the East? The wise still seek Him.
Epiphany is not a one-time event, it is a context in which we live. How, then, can we seek the Lord in these days, in these times of ours?
The one necessary thing is to give God time, quiet and alone time in which to reflect and meditate. I have talked with some very busy and highly successful people who actually take time out away from their many concerns to reflect. They give their attention to God’s still, inner voice deep within them. They have come to know that they are more effective if they reflect on what they are doing, reflect on their goals and how they are achieving them. A by-product found in such times is a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness. These are all things that can be done in the presence of God, all things that are ultimately directed at seeking God’s purposes for our lives. They are far more important to attend to than the problems that beset us.
If Christmas is all about God coming to us to seek us out, then Epiphany is all about our seeking out the God who has come among us. The Wise Men offer us great wisdom. They give us a gift that is priceless. After finding Christ they went home by another route. We should too.
With the Wise Men, May you and I make that journey.