Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, January 3, 2021
St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Today is the feast of Epiphany! It’s when we remember the Magi (the Wise Men, or the Three Kings), who journeyed a long distance from far in the east, because they had discerned from looking up at the stars, from reading the prophets, and from their own prayer that a very important person had been born and they should go and see that child and honor him with gifts.
Now we call today Epiphany. And the word Epiphany means “a great revelation” and a great change. Jesus was a great revelation to humanity, that God loved us so much he–eternal and all-powerful God–would assume the limits of human flesh just to be near us, to live with us, to love us. So his birth was such a revelation that even these Magi — priests of the Zoroastrian faith (we think) would have discerned it through their ways of seeking the divine — in the stars, in holy books of prophecy, and in their prayers & dreams.
Lord Jesus, You are Mighty God and Prince of Peace. Lord have mercy.
Lord have Mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are Son of God and Son of Mary. Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are Word made flesh, and splendor of the Father. Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Glory to God in the highest….
Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons we hear a lot of accounts in scripture of people having various epiphanies — revelations from God — that change the course of their life and compel them to act in certain ways. Let’s just name some of them:
- The Angel’s appearance to Mary asking her to be the mother of the messiah (Luke 1:26-38)
- The appearance of an angel to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah, telling him that he and his wife would finally have a child — who grew up to be John the Baptist, the announcer that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed one of God. (Luke 1:5-25; 39-45; 57-80)
- The appearance of an angel to the Shepherds in a field that announces the messiah is born, and who then go and find Mary, Joseph and Jesus in a barn in Bethlehem. (Luke 2:8-20)
- Today’s gospel reading, where the Magi — priests of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia — discern, from astrology, from their reading of the Jewish prophet Micah, and from their own prayer, that the Jewish messiah was born in far away Judah. Not only that, but these Magi received a revelation in a dream that it was not safe to trust king Herod and they should not inform him where Jesus was born. (Matthew 2: 1-12)
- Later in a dream Joseph too is warned by God that he and Mary and Jesus should flee to Egypt because King Herod was out to kill the baby. (Matthew 2:13-21)
So you see, the world of these ancestors of ours, was filled will signs from God. And people like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds and these Magi were seekers of God’s revelation.
And how great that they were seekers, because they found what they were looking for — God-with-them. God was indeed with them in their life.
Are you a seeker? Do you go through life expecting God to show you the way? To surprise you? To show you things that are wonderful and saving?
Being a seeker is not the same as being a believer — who knows that God is real, in charge and wants what is good for you.
Being a seeker is not the same as being an optimist — who thinks that all will be well.
Being a seeker is more than being a believer or an optimist.
Being a seeker means being a believer AND an optimist who is willing to strive and strain and sacrifice to PERCEIVE and then ACT UPON God’s revelation in your life.
We know how Mary did that.
We know how Joseph did that.
With the Magi we know less, but I think they are amazing seekers, nevertheless!
Just think, the Magi lived in an entirely different world from the Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
They were from six or seven hundred miles away in Persia, speaking a different language and inhabiting a different culture.
Yet they looked up at the same sky, saw the same stars, and wondered about God and about life’s meaning in much the same ways as people anywhere.
They were probably priests of the Zoroastrian faith, which predominated in Ancient Persia, based on the teachings and beliefs of the prophet Zoroaster.
Yet they had a sense of the sacred in their world. God was knowable, and they must have believed that God wants to communicate to us in all kinds of ways.
That is why they sought knowledge and meaning. We sometimes refer to them as ‘wise’. For they studied the stars and their movements, the changes of time and season. They studied the prophets and sacred texts of their distant neighbors to the west, the Jews.
They were so convinced, that they made the sacrifice of a long and dangerous journey on foot for hundreds of miles. It had to have taken weeks. And it would have been expensive.
The magi brought with them gifts for the child — gifts associated with royalty: gold, frankincense and myrrh. For they believed a king had been born.
And that idea that Jesus was a king is exactly what troubled King Herod – the ruler of Judah. It’s why he told the Magi to come back to him when they found the child. For he secretly wanted to kill him, lest the people consider him a new king.
So Herod and the chief priests he consulted with were the opposite of seekers. They were not open to what God might be doing in their midst. They were closed off and closed in by their own ideas and their own fear of losing the power they had.
How sad to live with no wonder, no surprises, no sense of learning anything new, no openness to a future that’s actually in God’s hands. How sad not to be a seeker!
And in the case of Herod it had grave consequences — he massacred the baby boys of Bethlehem because he was so closed off and deaf to God’s revelation (Matthew 2:16-18).
Yet being a seeker takes being open to a change of plans, it means loosening our grip, letting go of our self-assurance and saying — “hmm, maybe there’s something new I have to learn! Maybe God is going to surprise me!” It means trusting that God wants to be close to you and has your best interests at heart, a God who will show you the way over time as you are able to perceive it by your striving, straining and sacrifice.
The Magi were seekers by their openness to perceiving God working in their life, and their willingness to act upon it in their long journey. They were not disappointed.
Mary was a seeker, by her prayerfulness that opened her up to encounter the angel, and her willingness to let her life be changed completely. She was not disappointed either…but greatly blessed…though her life was not without suffering.
I bet you could name the seekers you know, whose openness is refreshing and clearly for them life-saving and life-sweetening. Though they too have not been without their struggles.
Being a seeker lets the God who wants to get close to do so, to love you, to show you the way.
St. Ignatius, the spiritual master and founder of the Jesuits, has something to say about seeking which reminds me of the Magi but is very practical for us in our lives today.
He says that before we pray we should ask God that all our being — mind, body, soul: our thoughts, feelings, memory, emotions, sensations — be oriented entirely towards God, and become ways for God to reveal himself to us.
Do you see how holistic this is? This shows a belief that God wants to reveal himself to you in every possible way, and an openness for God to do just that through every aspect of what makes you, you!
It’s like the Magi who prayed and looked and studied and noticed and dreamed — all ways for God to communicate to them.
We can make that same prayer at the beginning of our formal prayer times, as St. Ignatius recommends. We can also make such a prayer
- at the beginning of our day
- At the beginning of a new year
- When we are puzzled and wondering or intensely seeking where to go, what to do, how to act
Like the Magi, let’s be seekers in 2021! Let’s be open to God. Sensitive to his revelation in our world. Willing to be surprised! To have our plans changed! To let God be God and direct our lives in possibly unexpected, but grace-filled ways.
As a Church community too, we can be seekers in our life together.
- What epiphany is God giving to us?
- How is God revealing himself in our midst?
- How are we called to act differently as a result?
- What change of plans, what long journey, what gifts of ours are we to bring to the holy child?
Come, let’s be seekers together!