Lectionary #20, Gospel Matthew 2: 1-12
Every new year brings with it the hope of new possibilities and a fresh start. The feast of the Epiphany which the Church celebrates immediately after new year’s day naturally lends itself to this sense of hope in that it celebrates light, revelation, the divine presence, and a new direction and focus in life. This is evident in the first words of the Old Testament reading for the feast: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).
The people of Jerusalem and indeed the city itself are exhorted to rise up without fear and praise the Lord who has redeemed them. Further, they are invited to become a source of blessing for all nations: “Nations shall walk by your light…” (Isaiah 60:3). The magi from the east mentioned in the gospel provide a beautiful example of this movement of praise and worship on the part of individuals which leads to living the good news and spreading it abroad. They saw the star of the “newborn king of the Jews” at its rising and they too rose up and took to their heels, following it to Bethlehem where two key events unfolded. First, their joy was fulfilled in that they saw and paid homage to the Christ child, welcoming him as a king, though still having no idea of just what a magnificent and unprecedented sort of king he truly was. Secondly, they set out for their homelands filled with joy and determined to shape their future around the newfound strength and hope that their meeting with the child Jesus brought them.
But how do we know this? After all, nothing more is said of the magi in the scriptures after this one brief episode. I think it is safe to say that they were transformed and enlivened in hope by their meeting with the holy family because they had the courage to defy Herod and return home without informing him where the “newborn king” was to be found. In other words, they recognized the goodness of what God was doing for his people through the infant king, and they trusted that the one who worked out such an unexpected wonder would remain faithful to those who abided in him, even when they risked themselves for him.
Stepping back for a moment to consider this, when the magi altered their path as they returned home they showed that they had gained the enlightenment to know when they must change their plans and even the course of their lives, and the courage to follow through in spite of the potential costs. For our part, the temptation to remain rooted in our ways is always strong—rather than moving forward in faith we often want to “go back” to what is familiar to us, even if it is not in our best interest, and even if it causes us some measure of suffering. Whether the root of this tendency lies with addiction, hesitancy, fear, or shear drudgery, this pattern of living keeps us in the dark where we may be comfortable in a “the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know” sort of way, but where nonetheless we fail to attain to the true joy and freedom that an honest relationship with God brings.
The beginning of a new year and the feast of the Epiphany give us all hope that we can once and for all move forward into the light of Christ and overcome whatever has been holding us back. This new year may we imitate the wisdom of the magi by welcoming this chance to step out of our darkness into God’s wonderful light (see 1 Peter 2:9) and to guide the way for our sisters and brothers to do the same, for truly “the glory of the Lord shines upon us”!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.