We all have them. Most people for whom it is difficult to shop, because either we can’t think of something that they would actually need or use, or they simply don’t need anything. I certainly have a long list of failed attempts and trying to find gifts for my parents. And I must confess that I really don’t much like wandering around in the store or mall trying to come up with something that seems challenging at best and a waste of time at worst. But what do you get the Son of God?
Despite the romanticism in the coming of the wise men, or more accurately, the magi, from the East, their quest was probably pretty dramatic. The idea that they were kings, traveling from some unknown location in the East makes for a good Christmas Carol, but it probably is not very historically accurate. In fact, nowhere in Matthew’s Gospel does it mention there were only three Magi. It simply states that there were three gifts brought by the Magi. Historians believe they may have been astrologers from the East, Perhaps the Zoroastrian religion which paid careful attention to the stars and found meaning in their location.
More important than the historical accuracy are the claims made by Matthew’s Gospel. When we consider the Magi, it is important to delve into the meaning of the word. Originally used to designate the Persian kingly class, magi gradually came to be associated with anyone believed to have knowledge that was not obtained simply by reason alone. Most likely, the magi were astrologers from the East, familiar with attempting to read the stars and planets to find some meaning.
The star they witnessed, represented the common belief, that when the king was born a new star rose in the sky. These magi, seemingly after a long pilgrimage, overjoyed in seeing the star. The reason for the request has become clear. It is also interesting that these magi encounter Jesus not in the manger, as we associate with Christmas, but rather in the house. Bringing their gifts, they recognize immediately the importance of this child.
More important than history, is the recognition that the faith in Jesus Christ is open to the entire world. All people are invited to recognizing Jesus the example of living the builds of the kingdom of God, and stresses the importance of caring concern for the poor, and a good living on moral life founded in the full humanity we are given. To call to holiness, as stated in the Second Vatican Council, is universal. All people are called to holiness, all people are invited to be the pilgrim people seeking God in every aspect of their lives.
In this story, the Magi recognize the presence of God. And in the gifts they brought, they provided insight as to what Jesus, the Son if God was all about. Myrrh, incense, and gold signified Jesus as priest, prophet and king. In our baptism, we too are anointed priest, prophet and king, through Christ. Put simply, Epiphany means manifestation. The gifts given by the Magi would be manifested over and over again in the life in Jesus. The presence of God is made manifest to the Magi, because of their attention to the signs in their lives. And so it must be with us. We too must be people seeking to draw understanding of meaning from the events of our lives, empowered by the grace of our baptism.
Certainly it is possible and indeed probably most likely, that this presence of God is found in the ordinary events of our lives. We are fortunate to be surrounded by a community of faith that reminds us that we are in this quest together. We seek to discover the presence of God in our family, in this church community, your relatives, those people with whom we work, indeed, everyone with whom we come in contact on a daily basis.
Seeing the presence of God in our ordinary everyday lives, requires us to be attentive to the grace of God. This in fact may be more difficult than those exceptional moments when we are called to do something outstanding. When parents recognize that their children are works in progress, and often do what they do precisely because their children, it shows openness to the presence of God which dwells in them. It serves as a reminder that our children are gifts to us gifts from God. When children recognize their parents have had as much experience being parents as they have had as kids, and can recognize the parents sometimes have bad days, they too are open to seeing the presence of God.
When we can see and discover meaning in the things that we do every day, we become more open to growing in faith. It becomes easier for us to recognize that God is indeed at work in everyone, even us.
However, there are too those moments when we are called to make an exceptional pilgrimage for travel to some distant location where people are especially great need. We are reminded then, of the young adults in this parish who are currently in Haiti ministering at an orphanage. On one level, they are helping the people of Haiti. But as is most obvious, often times we discover in such situations that we are the ones to whom ministry is happening. Nonetheless, the presence of our young adults in a country so desperate, without any infrastructure, is a reminder to them that they have not been forgotten. Despite the tragedies that overwhelm their lives, simply by being present, the young adults of this parish remind them of their loved by God and that they are remembered in person the world, but people they have never met.
The challenges of following God means going wherever God leads us. Such a quest is not always easy, especially in the hustle and bustle that often characterizes our lives. Too often, in our attempts to find fulfillment in our lives, we lose focus on the things that are truly important. How do we find out what to give the Son of God?
While the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we are called to bring Jesus the gift of our lives. Because of our baptism we have been chosen by God to make a difference in the world. We have been chosen by God, to reflect the presence of God because we are meeting his image and likeness. And so the most important gift we can bring the Christ child, is the gift that was first given to us: our very lives.