Fr. Charles Irvin
Sirach 3, 2-6; 12-14; Colossians 3, 12-21; Matthew 2, 13-15. 19-23
We are all familiar with beginnings, middles and endings. They form the context for most of our endeavors. Dramas, movies, symphonies, speeches, marriages, military campaigns, and our business enterprises — all have beginnings, middles and endings.
The Church presents the life and times of Jesus Christ that way, and so our Church puts us now into those events that constitute the beginnings of Christ’s life amongst us here on earth, His nativity, His infancy, His baptism by John in the River Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana in Galilee. We enter into them all from the time of Christmas to the time of Lent. They are all part of Christ’s beginnings.
God our Father chose to have His Son come among us in a family, and that is the reality we consider today. The longest period of time Christ was among us here on earth was the thirty years He spent with His family, all of them unrecorded in the bible, all of them in the obscure ordinariness of living in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Let’s now imagine that the Gospel account you just heard is a piece that’s taken from the “First Act” of a work written and directed by St. Matthew. It sets the stage, so to speak, of a spiritual drama. The main thing we should not overlook is that we are all playing out our parts in this drama. Each one of us here is not sitting out in an audience simply observing the events. Each one of us here is acting out a part in actual life, a life that God has given us, one in which we must be engaged, one in which we must act. We can’t avoid it; we cannot choose to simply sit this one out and merely watch our life go by.
While it may appear that this gospel account is only for Jews, it isn’t. St. Matthew immediately involves non-Jews in the action. The Magi are powerful rulers in the Gentile world. They are “seers” who come to pay homage to the Christ Child. While the Child is destined to be the Jewish Messiah, His mission and purpose in living is for all the peoples of the world. He destiny is to be the savior of us all, the one who would bridge the chasm between us and the God who made us to live together with Him in love, the God we’ve so often put aside and ignore.
The Child Jesus immediately enters the non-Jewish world. In the flight into Egypt He enters into a culture steeped in ancient spiritualities that existed for several thousand years before Jesus was born. There’s a famous work of art hanging in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts depicting an exhausted Mary and a very tired Joseph resting — with the baby cradled between the legs of the Great Sphinx located just outside of Cairo, Egypt. It’s a remarkable scene that parallels the Christ Child sleeping peacefully in a manger located in Bethlehem of Judea. This picture shows that same Christ Child sleeping peacefully near the Great Pyramids of Egypt, between the front paws of the Great Sphinx. The image is powerful. The Child takes us back into very ancient spiritualities.
So are the powerful events that surrounded Christ’s birth. A very evil king, Herod by name, tries to kill this little Child. Herod orders his soldiers to slaughter all of the baby boys two years of age or less living in and around Bethlehem. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the lives of Mary and Joseph come crashing down around them. They have been struck by near mortal blows from the forces of Evil.
Many of us have likewise experienced similar blows. Like the twin towers of the former World Trade Center we’ve been standing strong and tall, gleaming in the sun, when suddenly and without warning we have been struck by evil, and our lives have collapsed in upon us. Perhaps we have been two beautiful, standing-tall parents, a happy mother and a strong father, when an evil force has struck our families.
Is God a cruel and testing God? Do we, as many people have done and still do, shake our fists at God and demand of Him an explanation? Or in the alternative do we simply wallow in despair and a with a sort of stoic courage that leads us nowhere?
St. Matthew gives us a different vision. He’s telling us that even though the human race has attempted to write its own script, God remains active and present to us throughout our long and sad human history. His drama is being played out — and we are actors in it.
We all experience moments when life makes no sense to us whatsoever — when accident, betrayal, rejection, human failure, and human evil, seek to destroy our souls. It’s in such moments that human science and technology provide us no answers, no meaning, no clues as to what life is all about.
The message of St. Matthew’s gospel account is that, in spite of human betrayal and outright evil, God remains close to us. Terrible events, however, may keep us from heeding the promptings of His Holy Spirit. Awful catastrophes turn us toward striking out rather than turning within and finding the God who dwells within us. For deep down, underneath all of the ash and debris caused by human destruction there resides God’s Holy Spirit. God is with us just as much as He was with Jesus as He hung in agony while dying on His cross.
St. Joseph and St. Mary give us role models. We should be understudies of them, watching them play out their parts, learning from them how to play our roles when our turn comes. For Joseph was a man who turned inward, listening to God’s voice, discerning God’s presence, and following God’s direction. Mary pondered all of these things in her heart. Both became twin towers of strength because they allowed their lives to be directed by God. Both turned over their trials and troubles to God. For it is the prerogative of God to bring good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos and life out of death. If we learn our script and study our character then we, like Joseph and Mary, can play out our parts, and play them out brilliantly on life’s stage.
Today you are invited to bring out from deep within you God’s Holy Spirit, that same powerful Spirit God placed within you when you were baptized and confirmed, that Holy Presence who leads you throughout life to trust in God’s providence and play a role in bringing God’s presence into our lives and into the world around us.
For just like Mary and Joseph, you, too, can bring God’s transforming power into your lives, and into realms greater than ancient Egypt — with its silent Sphinx that sees far beyond what is merely present in the fleeting moment of now.
The third and final act with its conclusion awaits you and me, before the curtain comes down, and our lives have been played out. May the heavenly host of angels fill our hearts with applause when our lives are over and we finally see and understand the parts we have played in God’s great drama.