Readings – Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
This morning as we celebrate the Epiphany, there are four life-enhancing elements for all of our lives in these twelve brief verses.
Let’s begin with being alert to our surroundings beyond our routine, and our everyday bubble. How do we expand our horizons? I read Time magazine, the Smithsonian, the Daily Item, and the Standard Journal. I go to borough council meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, and coffee hour. Many of us expand our horizons by watching T.V. newscasts.
The magi, we are not sure how many, three is a good number to match the three gifts, the magi watched the night sky. Upon seeing a new star in the west, they followed it, expectantly searching for “the child who has been born King of the Jews”. Some scholars speculate that they may be descendants of the ancient Hebrews who were walked into exile by the Babylonian Empire 400 years earlier, and who never returned to Israel. Perhaps their ancestors had been watching the night sky for generations. The magi were alert, waiting and watching for the star.
The first of our four elements to live by is to be alert, and to be observant of our surroundings, especially of the bright lights that bring good news. Of course, there is a darkness about, much of the press and the T.V. news cover that darkness. But like the magi of old, we are to search out the goodness, the bright lights. There is kindness around, let us be alert.
The second element is that not only did the magi see the star, but they also picked up their lives and followed it. Maybe they walked; maybe they rode horses; maybe they rode camels, yet they moved, they traveled. Their lives were changed by what they observed. They went to a new place.
In our lives, too, we are changed by the lights of our lives, by the goodness, and by the kindness, we see. And blessed are those who see and who respond, whose journey changes.
The third element of the magi story is a celebration. As the text states, “when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy…they knelt down and paid homage”. They were observant; they changed direction in response to the star; and they gave thanks. How many times do we see the stars, the goodness around us that may change our lives, and we fail to say, “thank you”, fail to give thanks? In my prayers, I try to remember people in my life, especially those who have passed on to the next life and give thanks for them. This is something I forget all too often to do in my current day-to-day living.
And, of course, we all remember the magi’s generosity, chests of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It must have pained King Herod to know the anticipated generosity of these magi. Perhaps he planned to confiscate their treasure later when they revealed the location of the Christ-child. To give thanks is wonderful, but to complete the thanksgiving there needs to be generosity as well, giving something of value from us to others. Scholars speculate that these three gifts enabled the Holy Family to slip away to Egypt and to live in exile until the death of murderous King Herod. This is a reminder that the lights that we observe and thank can usually benefit from our generosity.
To be alert, to lift up our eyes, looking for light.
To be changed by the light.
To be thankful for the light.
To be generous.
One last note, the magi were “not the usual suspects”, were people from afar, not part of the religious environment of ancient Israel. They were from “outside the box”. This, too, is a theme in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The magi’s visit was a surprise, unexpected. Perhaps, we, too, may be surprised by others who impact our life’s journey with their light, with their goodness, with their kindness.
Let us be alert; let us be prepared to change course; let us be joyfully thankful; and let us be generous.
And maybe, we, too, will be surprised by God guiding us in unexpected ways through unexpected events and unexpected people on our earthly pilgrimage.