Note: The following is a homily I wrote in 2008 for a course in biblical foundations. I decided to post it as-is, instead of making adjustments in hindsight. Today, I would write something different. Don’t judge me!
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, and in today’s readings we continue with a theme of light and wisdom. According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, “epiphany” means a “sudden and important realization or manifestation.” For us, this may seem like somewhat of a misnomer given that we have spent the four-week-long season of Advent preparing for the arrival of Christmas. We have done this by watching the star of Christ, and by praying upon the imminent arrival of God’s human form; but for the Magi who made this long journey, who knows what they expected to find? Perhaps they had doubts along the way.
In our faith tradition, “epiphany” more specifically refers to the Magi’s visit to the newborn Jesus, and the way in which their eyes were opened to the arrival of the Messiah, a story outlined in Matthew’s gospel. Upon the arrival of the Magi, they recognized Him for what He was and bestowed upon Him royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Who where these Magi? Well, most biblical scholars agree the Magi were most likely not Kings as we know them, but members of a priestly class, still important in Persian society. For reasons we do not completely understand, the Magi embarked on a pilgrimage prophesied by Isaiah in the First Reading and echoed in today’s Responsorial Psalm; a journey that would lead them approximately 2,000 kilometers in pursuit of a “star”, which would have taken them upwards of 12 months. This is a journey equivalent to riding from Moncton to Ottawa and back. By camel. Across the desert. With scorpions.
It must not have been a comfortable journey… but the Magi had the wisdom to know there was something unique about this star and possessed the fortitude to pursue its meaning in spite of considerable discomfort. The star, which was a lamp unto their feet, did not disappoint them. In reference to today’s Responsorial Psalm, these Magi successfully found the light of peace that will abound “until the moon is no more,” meaning that the compromised vision of moonlight will be illuminated by God’s presence here on earth.
It is sobering to think that the journey made by the Magi more than two thousand years ago is very relevant to us today in 2009. As people of faith, we are called upon to recognize the light of the star, the light of God; recognize it within ourselves, within others, and also the light cast by the star upon the world around us. The “mystery” Paul refers to in his letter to the Ephesians is no longer a mystery; the nature of the light is known to us, for we know its miraculous source.
Think for a moment about the epiphanies you may experience in your own life… what I like to think of as “Ah-ha” moments. Those of you who are parents likely experienced such a moment the first time you looked at your newborn, and suddenly understood something wonderful that was up until then unknowable and therefore unspeakable. Or perhaps you have been confronted with a serious illness and through the accompanying fear and anxiety, you began to understand something about life’s richness that you could not possibly have known before. Perhaps you have spent time in another country where traditions and customs were far different from your own. Hopefully you now understand something more about the connectedness of human beings than you did before. Or maybe you have done mission work with the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the outcast. You likely now understand that you are really no different than anyone belonging to any of these groups. Such realizations may have hit you slowly, but more than likely they came upon you suddenly with a sense of acknowledgement and insight you could feel in your gut. These are epiphanies, and in them we should acknowledge the light of God as their source.
I like to think of the Feast of the Epiphany in relation to the story of Emmaus Road told in Luke’s gospel. You remember it. It is the story of two of Jesus’ disciples walking along the road to Emmaus after He had been crucified, and when the resurrected Jesus joins them, they do not recognize Him, despite the fact that He is walking right alongside them. In this story, the disciples were at first unable to see the light of the risen Jesus because they were so consumed with their grief at the loss of their friend. But then Jesus made Himself known to them and they understood. Their epiphany.
In the very same way, we are often unable to see this light of God, the light of goodness, because of the negativity that surrounds us… assaults us everywhere we look.
It is truly difficult to find goodness when we are bombarded by images of genocide, war, violence, hatred. These all represent the darkness of the night through which the Magi pursued the star… they possessed the wisdom to do this. Even if sometimes we are unable to recognize this light, what would happen if we took this as an opportunity to project the light of God through our lives? Consider all those who have illuminated goodness amid an otherwise dark time and the miraculous evidence of their efforts; Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Terry Fox, Nelson Mandela.
In a way, these folks were all similar to the Magi, because they were unafraid of the darkness of racism, of poverty, of sickness, of injustice; in following their hopes, their dreams, their ideals, they were echoing the footsteps of the Magi in their journey toward the light of God. The gift of their pilgrimage is a better world in which we now live.
I would like for each of you to take a moment to focus on the guiding light, and consider how it speaks to you, consider where it would like to lead you. Pray for the wisdom of the Magi so that you may discern its meaning with greater clarity, and perhaps be a lamp unto the feet of others in this world.
If each of us were able to carry that light with us throughout the next year, that would be miracle enough. For now.
-Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development for the Archdiocese of Moncton