January 3, 2021 – Feast of The Epiphany
Before Christmas, my pregnant daughter sent me an email, attaching a copy of a cartoon she had come across. The cartoon depicted the nativity manger scene. Mary and Joseph knelt in front of the crib that held the child Jesus. There were three women included in the cartoon, each bearing a gift: One had a box of diapers, the second had a case of baby formula, and the third, a casserole.
The caption of the cartoon read, “Thankfully, after the three wise men left, three wiser women dropped by.”
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. The term epiphany refers to a revelation: important, long-awaited information is revealed. While additional events also revealed Jesus as the Christ, it was the experience of the magi that is considered the landmark event of the epiphany.
In Fr. Jim’s Christmas homily, he referenced these men that made the trip to visit the Christ child, saying, “the Magi, the three kings, the wise men – whatever you choose to call them – came bearing gifts.”
Why do we have three different names for this same group of visitors?
In preparing to preach this weekend, I looked into that very question. However, I found that the term used to describe the group varied from bible to bible and resource to resource – magi, kings, and wise men were used interchangeably.
Even the readings we heard today do not use common terminology. The prophet Isaiah foretold of these visitors as kings: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance…bearing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”
In today’s gospel from Matthew, the men are referred to as magi: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
It seems we have permission to choose whatever term we’d like.
I have personally decided to use wise men to identify this particular group of visitors. This is why:
The term magi refers to members of a hereditary priestly class in ancient Persia. You understand what it means to be a king. So, magi and king are both titles or stations in life. Men were given these titles as a birthright; they were not earned. The terms describe what these men were.
The term wise men, however, identifies who they were. To use the formal definition of wise, these men were knowledgeable and showed good judgment. Informally, they were also men of resolute action; they earned the title of wise.
What made these men wise?
First, they knew scripture and believed what the prophets foretold. When the star appeared, they joyfully sought the Lord. The gospel tells us, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star…”
“Blessed are those who seek the Lord with all their heart.” (Psalm 119:2)
Next, they worshipped the newborn Christ child. “…on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” These high-ranking, powerful men dropped to the ground in the presence of Jesus.
Also, they offered gifts – the aforementioned gifts worthy of a king. They gave what they had without hesitation and expected nothing in return.
Finally, they listened to the word of God. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” These wise men not only listened to the word of God but heeded the word – honored the word.
Their actions certainly support the fact that these were indeed wise men.
Great for them, but what is our takeaway? We are called to be wise as well.
By virtue of our baptism, we have all been given the title of Christian. It is just that – a title. It tells others what we are.
However, we are called to be actively engaged in our relationship with Jesus Christ. He needs us to be disciples. That will tell others who we are.
We earn the title of disciple by following the same formula of the wise men: We must believe in God; joyfully seek Him; worship Him; offer Him gifts; listen to Him; and honor Him.
I think we understand what it means to believe in God and worship him – these are the foundations of our faith. We also know the greatest commandments – to love God and love others. When we follow these commandments, we offer God a gift – a gift worthy of a king. We know how to carry out those components of discipleship.
Some of the other actions taken by the wise men are not as easy to replicate. What does listening to God and honoring Him look like in a disciple’s everyday life? What does it mean to joyfully seek God?
Prayer is critical to the life of a disciple. That being said, we often overlook the fact that prayer is a dialogue rather than a monologue. We should not be doing all of the talking. There is certainly a need to talk – voicing our gratitude, praying for the well-being of others, or sharing whatever our own needs might be. These are worthy talking points during our prayer time.
However, time should also be allotted for listening to God. We are reminded to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10) We must be patient; we must be attentive; we must have open hearts and open minds. We would not be celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany right now if people at that time had not been attentive and embraced the revelation with open hearts.
Many of us claim, “God doesn’t speak to me.” Is that truly the case or do we not like what we’re hearing? Do we dismiss what he has to say because it doesn’t fit in with our own plans? Does our need to control lead us to honor the word of God only when it suits us? We honor God when we listen to his word, accept it, and act on it.
Finally, the wise men joyfully sought the Lord. How do we, as disciples, do the same? It is a chicken-and-egg dynamic. Do we seek him with joyful hearts or are we joyful because we are seeking him? More often than not, it is the latter.
Our motivation for seeking him is likely due to our circumstance. We tend to seek him in our darkness, in our hopelessness. While our goal is to become a disciple that recognizes and embraces the loving presence of God always, it starts by turning to him in our sadness and despair. When we do that, we put our faith on display; it is the ultimate demonstration of trust. It says, “I cannot do this on my own.” It is this comforting realization that fills our hearts with joy.
I came across a song entitled, Wise Men Still Seek Him. Here are some of the lyrics from that song:
In the heart of every man there’s a hunger
A thirst for truth that must be satisfied
My journey took me halfway to hopelessness
But now my search is over
And I have found his light
Wise men still seek him
We as Christians know what it means to believe and offer gifts and worship…what it means to joyfully seek him, listen to him, and honor him; kings and magi knew these things as well. However, do we know how to put these theories into action? That’s what wise men do. That’s what disciples do.
Wise men – and wise women – still seek him.
If you would like to LISTEN to this homily, click below: