Epiphany 2017 Armidale
The child Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but for all humanity, represented today by the wise men from the East. These wise men were the first in that great procession of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s first reading (cf. 60:1-6): The people in every age that hear the message of the star and find the Child who reveals the tenderness of God.
According to tradition, the wise men were astronomers, watchers of the stars and constellations, observers of the heavens, and as such were religious people for it was at a time and in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men therefore represent men and women who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies.
The wise men set out in search of God. Having seen the sign of the star, they grasped its message and set off on a long journey. They sought the true Light, and by following a light, they found the light. It is really the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out and during their journey they would indeed have a personal encounter with the true God.
Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties. Once they reached Jerusalem, they went to the palace of Herod the king, for they thought it obvious that the new king would be born in the royal palace. But there in Jerusalem they lost sight of the star and met with a temptation in the form of a deception from Herod. King Herod was interested in the child, not to worship him like the wise men but to kill and eliminate him.
Herod is the man always seeking to get ahead who therefore sees others only as rivals. Deep down, he also considers God a rival, indeed the most dangerous rival of all. In Herod’s palace the wise men experience a moment of desolation as it seems they will not succeed in finding the child. But they manage to overcome their desolation thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit who speaks to them through the prophecies of sacred Scripture. These prophecies indicate that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
So they resume their journey, and once more they see the star and are “filled with delight”. Coming to Bethlehem, they found “the child with Mary his mother”. And this for them must have been a second temptation: the temptation to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him”, offering him their precious symbolic gifts. Again, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which assists them.
That grace, which through the star had called them and led them along the way, now lets them enter into the divine mystery to see that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men; that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they came to believe more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.
And so we can ask ourselves: Have I entered into this divine mystery? Where do I find God? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons... In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40,45).
The crib of Christmas and the star of the Epiphany point us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, his coming down, his humility; it is his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, and in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The wise men entered into this mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery of God: this was their conversion. Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion. Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the light of his star; Let us ask him to let us always seek the light of his star whenever – amid the deceptions of this world – we lose sight of it; Let us ask him to let us never be put off or scandalized by the ways of God who reveals himself in a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, naked on a cross, and in the least of our suffering brothers and sisters.
This is a re-working of Pope Francis’ Epiphany homily, January 06, 2015