IF YOU LONG FOR CHRIST, YOU ARE FOLLOWING THE RIGHT STAR
(A biblical reflection on THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD – Sunday, 3 January 2021)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalms: Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-13; Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6
The Scripture Text
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern My people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12 RSV).
The word Epiphany means to make manifest, reveal, or bring out of concealment. To be specific, the Epiphany is the manifestation and revelation of God in the lives and hearts of all peoples. The poetic words of “Third Isaiah” capture the coming of the Lord in the following way: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1-2 RSV). These are pretty heavy words, but the words of the poet help us to lift our hearts and minds to the heavens. What do we see? His star is rising!
It is indeed amazing, that in this age of science and sophistication there is so much interest in horoscopes and astrological signs. We do not have to lie to ourselves that most of us are secretly pleased when the newspaper “prophet” predicts a day for us to take life easy and be prepared for something great to happen. So, with today’s outlook, it is not too hard to appreciate ancient man’s dependence on stars and heavenly occurrences. Any event in the skies caused excitement and great expectation. The heavens were the television screen of the gods predicting in some hidden way man’s coming events. Thus, it was natural for Matthew to choose the star as the sign of pagan men hoping for answers from heaven.
Whether it was a real or symbolic star is not important. Matthew’s narrative skillfully shows that Christ fulfilled the ancient predictions of the coming Great One. It also shows that nature responds more appropriately to God than man, that foreigners (non-Jews/pagans) were more adept at recognizing Christ than the Jews themselves, and that the mission of Christ was to extend to a world scene far beyond that of Palestine. And the wise men from the East were indeed blessed. Of all who must have noticed the appearance of a special star, they were the most eager. They yearned to join the new King.
Longing for something is usually a delightful experience. We all experienced the longing for the warmth and surprises of Christmas. And very often the longing, or expectation of something, is happier than the actual event which comes and goes in a flash. Longing for a home of your own, or planning a vacation in the future, can be a delight. And on a deeper level, picture the husband and wife who long to get away from the kids just to be alone and appreciate each other. The honeymoon might never come, but just longing for it is a good sign of the love that exists between husband and wife. It proves that love is there. How sad if that desire ever disappears. And how many of us would long to get away from job and distraction, just to spend more time with our Lord. “I would go on a retreat right now, if I could get away.” “I would love to spend more time in prayer at home, but the phone rings, the kids come in. I get so distracted, that Christ seems a million miles away.” As disheartening as it seems sometimes, there is a good side. Be happy you have the desire to reach Christ. This desire, this longing only shows how limited things are on this earth. Only in heaven will we possess Christ perfectly. He will be right there face to face.
Some of the greatest saints in history – Saint Francis of Assisi [c.1181-1228], Saint Teresa of Avila [1515-1582], Saint Teresa of Lisieux [1873-1897] – all had to fight the problems of business and distractions. But the struggle of years never dampened their longing for Christ. And in the end, their patience with themselves and their life situation won Christ for them. Epiphany celebrates Christ showing Himself to the world. But even Christ our Lord and Savior had to be patient to wait for 30 (thirty) years before the right time came to fulfill what He longed for.
The longing of the Wise Men from the East brought the reward of the discovery of the Baby Jesus. Our own patience with our longing for Christ will give us Christ. So, please do not be impatient with your distractions in prayer or even at the Holy Mass today. Be happy about this desire you have. Know that Christ will come to us. He comes in the Holy Mass to increase our faith, our hope to be closer, our imperfect love. Please do not worry at all, because – like the Wise Men from the East – if you long for Christ, you are following the right star.
The story of the Wise Men from the East in today’s gospel is part of Saint Matthew’s way of teaching the early Christians the universality of God’s salvation plan. God does not despise poor Jewish shepherds, or the rich men from the East. How many and what other people came to see the infant, we do not know. But we can be sure that they were all graciously received. It is an interesting tradition that we retain the shepherds in the Christmas crib, even after the time of their visit is passed, while we introduce the Magi into the scene. There is something in this that admits our equality before God.
Like the Magi, we, too, come offering our gifts. Representatives of the congregation will carry to the altar the water, wine and bread, as we prepare to offer ourselves with Christ to the Father. Let this offering of ourselves not be marred by feelings of prejudice, bigotry or discrimination. Rather let us be joyful that before God, our Creator, we stand as equals, redeemed in the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You for revealing that Your “plan of salvation” is meant for everyone, including myself. Help all those who are searching for You to find the light of truth in Your Son Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit keep convincing me that my own patience with my longing for Christ will give me Christ. Amen.
Jakarta, 2 January 2021
A Christian Pilgrim