How many people here have already packed up all their Christmas decorations? Well, Christmas isn’t over yet! Actually, we have another whole week to go! Well, back to our manger scene, we notice that the magi have finally made their way over the stable, along with their obligatory camels, as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. Now many of us are probably out of Christmas mode already, but today the Church invites us to continue to celebrate, and to enter into the experience of the magi. The magi wandered to Bethlehem, they processed to the Lord to offer their gifts, they humbled themselves in a time of adoration, and then they went forth by a different way. Today, as we celebrate this Mass, we are invited to join them.
The magi first came to Bethlehem, wandering by faith. They were most likely some eastern combination of a king and an astrologer, so they were constantly looking to the stars, trying to decipher the heavens, trying to find order and purpose. When they saw the shining star different from all others, they realized that they had to follow this star to find it’s meaning, and ultimately, after much wandering, the star led them to Christ. We probably find ourselves looking for meaning and purpose in our lives as well. Sometimes on the one hand, we can face a lot of chaos, or on the other, the monotony of daily life. But today, our search has led us here before this altar, to listen to the Word of God and to receive his Body and Blood. By our coming here, we come into contact, even if just for an hour, with our purpose in life – to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.
Upon arriving, the magi process to the Lord, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are rather strange gifts, really, but they show us a bit of Jesus’ identity: gold, a gift to a king; frankincense, a costly incense for worship before God; and myrrh, a perfume used to anoint the dead, showing us Christ’s true mission. These three gifts were also gifts of themselves, statements of their adoration and faith in Jesus. Here in this church, we likewise process with bread and wine – to re-present the Last Supper and the mystery of the Cross. It really is the greatest gift we could give because it is a gift of love, of total self-sacrifice. But as these gifts are brought forward and prepared, we likewise bring the gift of ourselves and our hearts – all the joys, sufferings, thoughts, words, and actions of the day and week ahead. It is through these gifts that the Lord receives us and welcomes us, just as Jesus and his family did for the travelling magi.
Now remember, the magi didn’t just show up, drop their gifts off, and leave. The Gospel tells us that they prostrated themselves and did him homage. If what we say is true, that they were astrologer kings, that would be quite an extraordinary sight – three kings laying in humility and adoration before this tiny child. They may not have fully understood it at the time, but that child would grow up to offer himself out of love, not just to his parents, not just to the Jewish people, but to these gentile kings, and to all of us throughout the world. They wanted simply to thank him for the opportunity to be present with him. Now I know how uncomfortable these pews are (Thank God I have a presider chair!), and I know how we all have things we are getting ready to do and breakfasts that we are licking our lips for. Many times, we just want to get things over with! But as we come together today, we’re invited to pause, to kneel, to be silent, to pray, and to adore. The King in the manger that the magi prostrated before is the same that we will soon kneel before as well, present on this altar. We need to be sure to take the time to thank God simply for the opportunity to be in his presence and serve him!
If you recall, there was no room at the inn, and I don’t think Bethlehem had any Holiday Inns, so the magi knew that they would have to return at some point. And the Gospel tells us that they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod. They went back by another way, but not merely geographically. They had the choice: would they return to Herod and the selfishness and power-hunger that he represented? Or would they return a different way, starting a new life influenced by what they had just seen. Their hearts and spirits were comforted and their minds were still turning these things over in wonder – not a bad way to head home on the camel! At the end of Mass, we are invited to “Go in peace.” But we need to realize what this means. It is not merely to go in peace back to our cars and get back to work. We go in peace by another route. The way we know that the Eucharist means something to us is if we find ourselves doing or thinking things differently. Is the mystery that we are kneeling before here compatible with how we are living our lives? Do we take seriously what Christ challenges us to do through the Church in living new lives? Let us be comforted by the mysteries we receive here, and turn them over in our minds in wonder.
Brothers and sisters, let us mystically join the magi in their pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Let us pray in silent and profound adoration before the King of Kings, placing our gifts before him to do with them what he wills. And then, holding the child Jesus in our arms as we are soon to do in the Holy Eucharist, let us treasure his grace in our hearts and return home with new and transformed hearts by another way.