Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Today, St Matthew gives us the story of the visit of the magi to the newborn Savior.
Who were these magi, sometimes called kings?
I think scholars would agree that in ancient times, in what is known to us as the Middle East, the magi — from which come the words “magician” and “magic”— were astrologers. These were men who studied the skies, and found meaning in the movement of the stars and the planets. They were known as wise men, were influential in determining courses of action, and frequently would have been very wealthy, and respected in all levels of society. Their lives were full.
When a new star appeared in the night sky, there was doubtless much interest on the part of all the astrologers and there were surely more than three. Why did only three choose to see it as a sign and a call to set out on a journey?
One can imagine the other astrologers saying to these three, “Why are you setting out on this foolish endeavor? Why would you possibly leave everything, when here you are comfortable, well known, have status and success and all that is part of the good life? Why?”
And perhaps the three could only offer this sense that there was within their hearts a hunger, a need, a drive for the “more”. And somehow this star represented a call that was heavenly. It was a stirring within them that gave them the incentive and the courage to leave behind what had given their lives meaning, gave them the strength to set out on a road that risked everything. Even with the conveniences their wealth offered, it would be a long and painful and even, possibly, dangerous journey. What kept them going was the call, the star that traveled before them. With this in sight they endured the inconveniences and hardship of leaving behind all the good things they had known. Even for those who were wealthy a long journey would have filled with discomfort and weariness, and discouragement. The trip was hard.
It is easy to imagine their joy when the heavenly sign came to a stop over Jerusalem. There, at last, they hoped to find what they were looking for. They went, as was expected, to the king and to the wise men of that royal city. They asked, Where was the new beginning happening? Where was the new king that was to bring about a new world?
Instead, what they found were lies, insincerity and jealousy.
Once outside the city walls, the star reappeared and what they found was a country place called Bethlehem. Near that small village the heavenly sign stopped again and there in a little house, they found a newborn child in the arms of his mother. Clearly the woman and her husband were poor folks. This child had been born, not in a palace, but in a stable. There must have been a moment when the magi asked themselves, “It is for this poor child that we have left everything and made the journey? After all we have been through, this is what we find? Isn’t this the greatest disappointment of them all?”
But suddenly something happened within them, as if the sign from heaven had entered into their hearts and minds and they knew they truly had found what they were looking for. In what seemed so little, so poor, so insignificant, they discovered ‘the more”. The heavenly call gave them new minds and new hearts.
And kneeling down, they adored Him. And they gave him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrhh. Whatever significance the ages have given to these gifts, we know they gave the best they had.
Having spent a few days as part of this simple scene, the Gospel says that the magi went back by a different road. And when they once again returned home, what they had seen and experienced, the more, made it happen that their lives were never again the same.
Epiphany means “discovery”. And that makes the story of the magi our story. Like them, attentive to our own call and hunger for the “more” and faithful to the struggles that are part of our life journey, we too come to find the wisdom and the power of God in the poverty, vulnerability and beauty of God become human in a little child. We, too, can never be the same again.
And this is the story of conversion, of our search, sometimes in the midst of plenty, and the call we have to find our own star to travel by a different road and finally never to be the same again.
By Dick McCaslin
Wednesday after Epiphany
1 John 4:11-18
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another. ...
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. ...
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Mark 6
This is a wonderful day to ask for the grace to let God's love into our hearts and to let that love drive fear away.
Fear is so debilitating. It is especially damaging to our peace, our ability to face challenges with courage, and our ability to love. There are many things that can lead us to fear. Certainly bad experiences of the past can cause fear of the future, fear of being hurt again. Uncertainty alone can lead to fear of the unknown. We all know from experience that the longer fear has a grip on us the deeper it gets.
What is the opposite of fear? What happens when love drives fear out? Fearlessness, for sure, is one result. There is a freedom and even a flexibility and courage. To be unafraid allows us to be bold, even to take risks we never would have taken before. It allows us to be vulnerable and less guarded or defended. Peace and a calm comes, in the absence of fear, that allows us to hear better, see better, experience more fully, and to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit more freely.
John is urging us to love, because God is love. He is inviting us to remain in God's love and to let God remain in us. He clearly states the obvious, which is so difficult to let deep inside of us. "If God so loved us, we also must love one another." We can see the tragic results when we try to love God and not love our neighbor. Our credibility as witnesses of God's love in us goes out the window. We know something is wrong. Upon reflection, we may discover that at the root of our struggle to love others is our fear, our many fears.
John tells us, "There is no fear in love." God's love takes away our fear. Whatever happens to us, we are in the loving embrace of our God, all the time. John describes it as "perfect love" which "drives out fear." God's love for us is perfect - like no other love we've ever experienced. It is un-conditional. God doesn't love us only when, and if, we do this or that. God loves us because God made us; God knows our story; and God is aware of our pain and our sin. God loves us because God always wants to help us be whole and free and loving. It is how God's love works. When we let ourselves experience, feel and embrace the security of that complete love, our fears begin to lessen and melt away. We can say, "Lord, with your love, I'm no longer afraid." If we say it over and over, this simple prayer becomes liberating, empowering, and it gives us the courage to love others fear-less-ly.
In the gospel, there's a storm at sea. Pope Francis, at the beginning of the pandemic turned to this passage and reminded us that while we are all "at sea, in a storm," we are in the same boat, with Jesus. Whatever sea tosses us around, whatever storm threatens our security, whatever fear begins to take hold of us. Jesus is there to say, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!"
Our role is to be open to, to ask for, to trust and rely on that love. We can choose to live in his love and to let his love drive out our fear. Then, we will have courage and be freer and more centered and readied to calm the stormy seas others are facing, because we know he is with us always.
By Andy Alexander