Epiphany: Manifestation of the Lord

Story: A husband asked his wife, "Why would God give the wise men a star to guide them?" She replied, "Because God knows men are too proud to ask directions."

 "When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, rebuild the nations, bring peace among people, make music in the heart." So wrote Howard Thurman. 
As we give our insignificant, little gifts to God, the good news is that God accepts them! Like the Magi offering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we offer what we have, from the heart, in response to what that Child has given to us - himself.
wise men1Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol, Christina Rosetti’s A Christmas Carol, which begins, “In the bleak midwinter.” The carol sums up, in its last stanza, the nature of "giving to the Christ child.”
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I could give a Lamb.
If I were a wise man, I could do my part.
What I can I give Him?  Give Him my heart!”

Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

vs.1  After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east.

Michel de Verteuil
 General Comments
In the Christmas story as told by St Luke, the Word made flesh manifests himself to the shepherds; in St Matthew’s version, he manifests himself to the wise men from the East. Although at first sight the two stories seem different, they are in fact basically alike – as you will discover when you meditate on each passage – since there is only one God and he has one way of relating with us.
wisemen2For this feast, then, make the journey with the wise men, as you did with the shepherds on Christmas Day and on January 1st.
The story is told in clearly defined stages, and you will find that each of these stages will touch you in your meditation, so that you need not include the entire story  in order to do a good meditation.
Verses 1 and 2 tell us of the journey from “the east” to Jerusalem, and the symbolism of the first searching which takes us some of the way, before we get lost and have to resort to a religious center.
In verses 3 to 9 we have the meeting between the wise men and Herod – very dramatic, and so true to experience. You can read these verses from the point of view of the wise men, so humble and open to learning from religious leaders, even though these have bad motives; or from the point of view of Herod, typical of ourselves when we are in a position of authority and privilege and become insecure at the mere thought of a new religious insight.
wise men 3In verses 10 and 11 we have the touching story of all moments of grace – the joy of recognition, the sense of homecoming, the simplicity of the presence of God. The mention of the “treasures” is clearly meant to convey the arrival of other cultures doing homage to Jesus.
Verse 12 is very significant, indicating the new-found freedom of the believers.

Prayer Reflection
wisemen and herodLord, there comes a point in our lives when we finally discover
what we want to give our whole lives to:
* a cause like racial equality, community development, women’s rights;
* a spirituality which combines union with God and social involvement;
* the religious life or the priesthood;
* contemplative prayer.
We look back on the long journey that brought us to this point,
from the time we knew in some vague way that we wanted to change our ways
– like the wise men seeing a star as it rose and deciding to follow it.
Then, as it always seems to happen on a spiritual journey,
we lost sight of the star and drifted aimlessly for some years,
until we realized that the only sensible thing to do was to get help.

journey with god

So we went to our religious leaders,
and though they were rather confused themselves,
they put us back on the right track and the old enthusiasm returned.
The last part of the journey went quickly:
suddenly we knew that we had found what we had been looking for,
and it was like coming home, so that we went into the house,
fell on our knees and opened our treasures.
Thank you, Lord, for guiding us every part of the way.
Lord, it is strange how we become attached to positions of privilege
* as parents or teachers;
* occupying  a position in the Church;
* accepted as one of the better educated members of our little circle.
When people come forward who are from a different background,
or who are asking new questions,
we are perturbed, as Herod was when the wise men came to Jerusalem.
We reflect on what to say, and may even give them good advice,
but deep down our main concern is
that we should continue to feel secure where we are.
No wonder those whom we help do not come back to us
but return to their country by a different way.
Lord, for many centuries now the Church has been European.
We thank you that in our day people of other cultures are looking for Jesus
because they  have seen a star out in the east.
Naturally, we are perturbed by all these foreigners,
and so is the whole of Jerusalem, for they will bring changes to the whole Church,
and we will lose our special status.
So, though we give them the right instructions,
we tell them that once they  have discovered Jesus
they must come back and tell us exactly what they  have found.
But you are guiding them, Lord, and when they come to Jesus
they will open the treasures of their own cultures.
Furthermore, you will reveal to them that there is no need to come back to us,
and they will make their own way home.
Lord, we sometimes think that we must spend plenty of money
to make Jesus more attractive, or that we must be very learned
so that our preaching of him can draw many to him.

Jesus learning his trade
But wise men are looking for an infant king,
and the Scriptures say that he will come from Bethlehem,
the least among the leaders of Judah,
because people are tired of great kings who dominate them.
But if they go into a simple house and see the child Jesus with his mother Mary,
even as they fall on their knees and do him homage
they will feel comfortable to open their treasures
and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Jesus learning his tradeLord, we look today for instant results and for the “quick fix” in all things,
so that we end up looking for instant spiritual growth as well.
But before we can see Jesus and fall on our knees and do him homage
we have to make a long journey from the east.
We have to follow a star, lose it and discover it again many times,
until finally it halts over the place where he is.

Thomas O’Loughlin,
Homily Notes
1. This feast cannot escape the links with the colourful exotic figures in the crib and their gifts. However, the task of the preacher is to draw attention to those aspects of the mystery of the incarnation that Matthew wished to highlight by introducing the story of the eastern visitors into his infancy narra­tive.
2. In a nutshell, the infancy narratives in both Luke and Matthew should be seen as ‘identity cards’: they tell us about who Jesus is, before we hear anything about what he did. But they approach the question of identity using the forms of his­torical narrative rather than abstract theological categories. Once this is stated then each of the episodes within these nar­ratives, such as the visit of the magi, must be seen as express­ing various aspects of the mysterious identity of the Anointed One. So what does this story tell us about Jesus and our faith in him?
3. That Jesus was the one for whom Israel waited over the gen­erations of promise was established by Matthew at the very beginning of his gospel in the genealogy. However, there was also a strand of messianic faith that the Christ would not only bring salvation to Israel, but to all ‘the nations’, the whole of humanity. We find this faith in the oracle in Zechariah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'” (8:23). Now with the arrival of these magi, representatives of the nations, this prophecy is fulfilled and one more aspect of the nature of Jesus is revealed. Jesus is the one who is awaited by all nations.
4. The message of the Christians is that God has sent us his Son in Jesus Christ; today we rejoice that this mystery of God­with-us is not something that is confined to a select few, but something that is for all humanity.
5. Matthew is careful to show that while God reveals the Anointed One’s coming by a star, it is also something that comes through the magi’s own deep searching. In this Matthew’s gospel is very different from Luke’s gospel where the angel tells the shepherds who has come and what it means and what to do, and then they do it. In Matthew we have professional searchers who realise that there is a greater mystery beyond their present conditions and then set out to find it. They follow the evidence, they at first come to the wrong conclusion when they go to Herod’s court, and the truth only becomes dear when they find themselves in the presence of Jesus. The Christ, and his gospel, is thus seen as the fulfillment of human longings and of the human search for the truth – not as something imposed on humanity from outside that is destructive of human desires and creativity. Alas, we Christians often present the gospel in just such a negative way.
6. To celebrate this feast is to rejoice that God’s love has become available to us and that that love invites a response from us: to offer to Truth himself all our human talents.
3. John Littleton,
Introduction to the Celebration
Today we recall the strange and exotic visitors who went to greet the infant Jesus. They remind us that in a myriad of ways the Christ beckons all of us to gather with him and offer thanks to the Father.

Gospel Reflection
For many Christians, the Feast of the Epiphany (which is also known as Little Christmas in Ireland) marks the end of the Christmas season. Yet the Epiphany is at the heart of the Christmas message. The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ or ‘showing’. Fundamentally, the Christian vocation is to show Jesus and his glory to the world. The Epiphany acknowledges that Jesus Christ, the newborn baby, is the Saviour of all people.
During the Christmas season, we reflect on what it means to believe that the Word became flesh and lived among us. God has chosen to live among us, hh people, in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord anc Saviour, who saves us from the justly deserved consequences of our sins.
This is why we celebrate Christmas. All other activities associated with Christmas — for example, the exchange of gifts, the holidays from school and work. the visits to family and friends — are secondary. The real wonder of Christmas is not just that God becamc human in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, but thaT Christ, through his Church, continues to be present in our world.
God's Word, Son  and RevelationChristmas and the Epiphany challenge us to renew our appreciation of the commitment God has made to us by becoming human. In the person and life of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, God has demonstrated beyond all doubt how much he loves us and shares his life with us. God shares his life with us especially through the Church and the sacraments. In the person and life of Jesus Christ, God has embraced human nature completely and he has become one with it. This is the mystery of Christmas and it remains true for all time and for all God’s people everywhere.
The Feast of the Epiphany invites us to consider once again the real meaning of Christmas and to respond accordingly. The wise men, in presenting Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, acknowledged him as Saviour of all people. The feast invites us to ask: what gift can we present to Jesus that acknowledges him as our Saviour?
Surely the most appropriate gift is striving to live a life that imitates his teaching and example. Therefore, the Epiphany is an ideal time to reflect on the practice of our Christian faith so that, during the coming year, we will ‘show’ the world the glory of the Saviour who has redeemed us from sin and who gives us life through his Church and the celebration of the sacraments.
For meditation:  We saw his star as it rose and have come to do the king homage. (Mathew 2:2)
From the Connections:
The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew does not call them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from – in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.
A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.
Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi – non-believers in the eyes of Israel -- possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.
Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:
gold is a gift fitting for a king, a ruler, one with power and authority;
frankincense is a gift fitting for a priest, one who offers sacrifice (frankincense was an aromatic perfume sprinkled on the animals sacrificed in the Temple);
myrrh is a fitting “gift” for someone who is to die (myrrh was used in ancient times for embalming the bodies of the dead before burial).
Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.
The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.
What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion.
The Magi at 40,000 feet
On Christmas morning, a single mom and her two sons, ages 14 and 12, boarded a plane in Atlanta.  They were heading to San Diego to spend Christmas with friends.
Another single mother boarded the same flight, wrangling two small boys, ages 2 and 3.  The older boy was wearing a ”halo” neck brace to immobilize his head and spine.  They took their seats two rows behind the first family.  The younger child sat on her lap, and the boy in the halo took the middle seat — next to a man with a look of unmitigated dread.  Both toddlers immediately started screaming.  The boy in the halo wanted no part of the seat belt and the other didn’t want to sit on his mother’s lap. 
The first mom knew what the toddlers’ mom was going through.  Once the plane was in the air, she got up and offered her seat to the ashen-faced man near the window.  He looked spectacularly relieved.  She took his place and offered the mom an extra pair of hands.  For the next four hours she read Dr. Seuss, walked up and down the aisle with the boys, amused them with hand puppets, changed diapers, doled out Goldfish crackers and bottles.
During the last hour of the flight, both children were asleep, and the two moms had a chance to talk.  The second mom asked the first mom about her sons’ father.   She told her about the divorce and a new relationship that was faltering. 
“And your sons: where is their father?” she asked gingerly.
The toddlers’ mom spoke softly:  “Six months ago, my husband was killed in a car accident.  I was at home with the baby, and my older son” — she pointed to the three-year-old with the halo — “was airlifted in critical condition from the scene.  He had a broken neck and severe internal injuries.  It was touch and go for a while.  He still has a ways to go.”
She went on to explain that she was on leave from Delta and was now trying to sort out the next moves for her and her boys.  For now, she was taking them to see her family in California.  
She smiled wistfully.  “You never know how quickly life can change.  The life you plan . . . ”  Her voice trailed off as she smiled at the sleeping child in her lap.
The first mom writes of that Christmas:  “I had intended to be the generous one that morning.  My gift to her was an extra pair of hands to wrangle spirited toddlers trapped on a plane.  But her gift to me was of the Magi order.  It was the gift of perspective, of being able to step back and appreciate what I have, however frustrating . . . thanks to that stranger on a plane, I discovered I had more patience and appreciation in me.”
[From “The Magi at 40,000 feet” by Laura Wilkinson Sinton, The New York Times, December 22, 2011.]
On our individual journeys through this life, we discover “stars” that help us find our way; we meet “magi” whose wisdom and grace help us discern our course; we realize the gift of God’s presence in the Bethlehem of our own hearts.  Every one of our lives is a continuing “epiphany” — a journey of discovery, of growing in wisdom and grace, of finding God.  Like the magi’s search for the Messiah-king, like the meeting of the two moms on a 757 one Christmas morning, our own everyday odyssey is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that, often unnoticed and unappreciated, are part of every human experience.  The Gospel of the Epiphany challenges us to fix our journey on the “star” that leads us to embrace a perspective of gratitude and humility that leads us to find the love of God in our midst.  

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading is from Isaiah who reminds the people that the time has come for their liberation for the Lord is coming with his light to enlighten all nations. He also tells them that God has come not only for them but for all those who live in darkness. “For the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will appear over you.” The exiled Jews are pictured as returning to their homeland and as they come they bring back the wealth of the nations. The point that is being made is that salvation coming from God is for all people and not restricted to the Jews. God is for all who look for him and receive him. All people will be saved.

Angel at work?
The British express train raced through the night, its powerful headlight piercing the darkness. Queen Victoria was a passenger on the train. Suddenly the engineer saw a startling sight. Revealed in the beam of the engine’s light was a strange figure in a black cloak standing in the middle of the tracks and waving its arms. The engineer grabbed for the brake and brought the train to a grinding halt. He and his fellow trainmen clambered down to see what had stopped them. But they could find no trace of the strange figure. On a hunch the engineer walked a few yards further up the tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stared into the fog in horror. A bridge had been washed out in the middle and ahead of them it had toppled into a swollen stream. If the engineer had not heeded the ghostly figure, his train would have plummeted down into the stream. While the bridge and tracks were being repaired, the crew made a more intensive search for the strange flagman. But not until they got to London did they solve the mystery. At the base of the engine’s head lamp the engineer discovered a huge dead moth. He looked at it a moment, then on impulse wet its wings and pasted it to the glass of the lamp. Climbing back in to his cab, he switched on the light and saw the “flagman” in the beam. In the fog, it appeared to be a phantom figure, waving its arms. When Queen Victoria was told of the strange happening she said, “I’m sure it was no accident. It was God’s way of protecting us.” No, the figure the engineer saw in the headlight’s beam was not an angel…and yet God, quite possibly through the ministry of His unseen angels, had placed the moth on the headlight lens exactly when and where it was needed.
Billy Graham from ‘Unto the Hills’

Today’s gospel reminds us that besides the shepherds those who were given the good news were wise men from the East who journeyed in search of the new-born king. In search of the new-born king they went to king Herod to find out the whereabouts of Jesus. But Herod was greatly perturbed at the prospect of an infant king and he desired to destroy the infant. Like the shepherds and the wise men everyone who wishes to discover the Lord has to embark on a faith journey. Just as the wise men we too may sometimes be searching for God in the wrong places and so we do not find him. Instead of a royal palace they had to search for Jesus in Bethlehem. Having received instructions from king Herod, the wise men again set out and rediscovered the star that lead them to Jesus. They paid him homage and offered him the gifts they had brought along. Having seen the Lord they made plans to return but being warned about Herod’s evil scheme to eliminate Jesus, they returned home by a different way. Today’s Gospel has much to teach us about our own faith journey. There will be moments when things are clear and moments when we are confused and lost. What is important is that we persevere even when in darkness and confusion, for the Lord will come to our aid in strange ways if we let Him guide us. Secondly, we cannot come empty handed into the presence of God. The wise men offered what they had brought along: gold, frankincense and myrrh. What have we to offer to the Lord? Even if we believe we have nothing worthwhile to offer, we still have the best gift we can offer, the gift of ourselves. Christmas is after all a season of gift-giving. Have we offered ourselves to God? Lastly, after meeting the new born king the wise men were told to return home by a new way. If we have met the Lord, our lives will no longer be the same. We have to live life in a new way. Every God-encounter should be a conversion experience.

Reveal the Lord!
The first Christmas was an almost hidden event. God became human but nobody knew except Mary and Joseph and a few shepherds. Even they did not realize the full meaning of what had happened. Then the wise men came from the East to acknowledge that this infant was a special one sent by God. The coming of the Magi was to show that God took on human nature not just for the chosen people but to save all people. The enterprising trio followed God’s inspiration, found Christ and brought the good news back to their own people. They were not distracted from that task even by Herod’s invitation to return and enjoy his royal hospitality. As we move into the New Year, people everywhere will need to hear and heed the fact that God has visited his people and He lives in our world. On the feast of the Epiphany, we ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us so that, like the Magi, we will not be distracted from bringing him to our own people and others during the coming year.
Tom Clancy in ‘Living the Word’

Those who are at the top need to fear a fall
Raymond Brown, the great New Testament scholar, found an echo of the story of the Three Wise Men in the story of king Balak and the prophet Balaam in the Old Testament. Balak was a king of Moabites. When the Israelites left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, king Balak feared the Israelites and wanted to destroy them, like king Herod who feared the birth of the Messiah. To accomplish his purpose, Balak summoned a famous prophet Balaam to place a curse on Israel. Balaam was an interesting character; he was a non-Israelite, and a practitioner of enchantment. He was capable of doing both good and evil. Balaam, the prophet, came from the east along with two servants, thereby, making the number three, like the Magi. And when he came, instead of cursing Israel, he foiled king Balak’s efforts by blessing Israel and foretelling about the future greatness of Israel and the rise of its royal ruler, He prophesied and said, “A star will come forth from Jacob, and a scepter will rise from Israel.” The wicked king Balak, like king Herod, sought to use a magus to destroy his enemy, but his efforts were foiled.

Sunday Homilies; John Rose

Marco Polo journeyed to India and China; Christopher Columbus journeyed to America; Admiral Byrd journeyed to the South Pole; Armstrong journeyed to the moon. They all undertook daring adventures. Likewise, The Magi, as narrated in the Gospel, journeyed to find the new born babe, Jesus. Leaving the security of their homeland, they ventured forth into a strange country in order to find the Saviour. Like all men, these astrologers too were in constant search after human fulfillment, but they believed that only in the Saviour they could finally find what they had been searching for all their lives. We too are making our individual journeys, searching after something which alone will give meaning to our existence; we are searching for something permanent and eternal. Happily for us, by the gift of faith in Christ which we already possess, we are in no doubt that we can find our perfect fulfillment only in Jesus. But we need a guide for our spiritual journey as the Magi needed a star to guide them to Jesus. Our guiding star is obviously the divine teachings of Christ. The more truly we follow our Lord’s teachings in daily life, the more surely we will encounter him and the more easily he will be able to reveal himself to us.

Vima Dasan in ‘His Word Lives’

The Impossible Dream
God does not draw drafts of divine plans, but plants dreams in human hearts. Jacob, Daniel, Joseph of the Old Testament and Joseph of Nazareth nursed dreams and cooperated with God to turn dreams into reality. Jesus himself sowed a beautiful dream in human hearts: the kingdom of God, a new world order. The ‘I have a dream’ speech of Martin Luther King Jr. delivered during the Civil Rights March on Aug. 28, 1963, changed the course of history for Afro-Americans. Two months later, John F. Kennedy said in Dublin, “We need men and women who can dream of things that never were.” Both were murdered. But their dreams never die. A young Spaniard called Francis once dreamt that he carried an Indian on his shoulders. Confiding in his friend Laynez, he said, “Do you know what I dreamt? That I was trying to hoist an Indian on my shoulders, and he was such a dead weight I couldn’t lift him!” Francis Xavier arrived in India in 1541 to lift Indians for an Epiphany-experience. The New Year calls for new dreams. And dreams call for a spirit of daring and striving to do! May we be filled with that spirit this New Year.

The Gift of the Magi
The story concerns a young married couple named Jim and Della. They are poor but much in love with each other. As Christmas approaches, Della wonders what to get Jim for Christmas. She would like to give him a chain for his gold watch, but she doesn’t have enough money. Then she gets an idea. She has beautiful long hair. She decides to cut off her hair and sell them to buy the chain for Jim’s watch. On Christmas Eve she is returning home. In her hand is a beautiful box containing a gold chain which she has purchased with her hair. Suddenly Della begins to worry. She knows Jim admired her long hair, and she wonders if he will be disappointed that she cut it and sold it. Only time will tell. Della climbs the final flight of stairs leading to their tiny apartment. She unlocks the door and finds Jim waiting. In his hand is a neatly wrapped box containing the gift he has purchased for her. When Jim sees Della’s short hair, tears begin to form in his eyes. But he says nothing. He chokes back the tears and gives her the box. When Della opens it, she can’t believe what she sees. There in the box is a set of beautiful combs for her long hair. And when Jim opens his gift, he too can hardly believe his eyes. There inside the box is a beautiful chain for his gold watch. Only then does Della realize that Jim sold his gold watch to buy the combs for her hair. -Some people think the surprise ending of the story is tragic. But most people consider it beautiful. What makes it beautiful is not the gifts, but the love that the gifts symbolize.
O. Henry

Returning from exile the deported Jews have set out on a journey to Jerusalem, a Jerusalem lit by the multiple candles of the rebuilt temple. The prophet looks beyond Jerusalem, to a city beyond this, not to the earthly city but one that the Lord will build, to which all people are welcome to journey. This city will be the city of the kingdom of God built on faith. Already the prophet believes that all kinds of people from all over the world, from every tribe and nation are on the move towards this heavenly Jerusalem. 

The Quest
Once upon a time, in a far off land deep in shadow, there lived two orphans who were very unhappy living in shadowland. One day they decided to leave their homeland and journey beyond the grey mountains until they would come face to face with the light that makes colours. So while the rest of the country was fast asleep in their grey beds, they packed their few belongings in a knapsack and set off on their quest to discover the light and bring it back to shadowland. – Most of the stories we remember from our own childhood are stories of quests where the hero leaves the world of the familiar and sets out for an unknown country in search of something special or someone special. Many of our great religious stories follow the same pattern. Does our faith journey lead us on such a quest?
- Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the Word’
In the second reading Paul reminds his readers in Ephesus that there is no longer any privileged place nor any holy city necessary for our journey to the Lord. All people are invited and all people can come and experience the Lord without any pre conditions to be fulfilled. His revelation is the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers, through the preaching of the gospel. All are called to journey together to show the unity of the Body of Christ. Jews and gentiles are all part of the one Body of Christ. In today’s Gospel Matthew tells the classic story of the arrival of some strangers in Jerusalem. They are called ‘Magi’ which is variously translated as astrologers, magicians, wise men. Mathew contrasts the Magi who follow natural means- the star, against the wise men of Judea who are able to follow their own sign – the scriptures. They have enough information from their scriptures to discover where the new king will be born, but they are not ready to act upon this knowledge which has been revealed in the scriptures. By contrast the wise strangers from the East traveled from distant places, taking risks in following a star and journeying in faith and hope. They are willing to be instructed in a scripture foreign to them and are rewarded by their discovery of the new-born king. “How wonderfully God adapts his Christmas message to the capacity of his hearers! For the shepherd he uses a manger; for the Magi, a star; for the learned scribes, scripture; for Herod, the wise men from the East. The wise men symbolize for us the countless multitudes long-exiled from paradise yet retaining some lingering, undefined nostalgia for it. How many had this presentment about the King of the Jews, born under a luck star? Only the Magi undertook the journey and followed it through to the end.” Bible Missal

When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. – It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s gospel story. To the cynical observer the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe –the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man.
- Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
After the Magi found the babe in the manger and offered their gifts they were ready to return home but were warned not to go back by the way they came but to return by a different way. This suggests not just a new geographical route but a new mentality. This little detail perhaps has a significance all its own. All are invited to discover God through the different journeys in faith that they undertake. But after encountering God we cannot be the same, we cannot return to our old ways. The encounter has to change us. It is impossible to encounter Christ without it affecting the way we live our lives.

Star of Bethlehem
Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for peace and reconciliation. He said: “I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, a star of hope, the star of Bethlehem.”
- Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’
1. I want to start this morning by taking a short poll. First: How many of you still have your Christmas Tree up? Second: What do you have on the top of your Christmas tree, a star or an angel. How many of you have stars on top of your tree? How many of you have angels?

The reason I asked the first question is: Christmas, from the Christian perspective isn't truly over until January 6th or Epiphany, the day we traditionally celebrate the visit by the Wise Men. The reason I asked the second question is: I think there are two types of people. Some are star people and some are angel people.  

Biblically, the Angel represents those who had been waiting for the Messiah, for a sign from God, for a long time, like the Shepherds. They knew what the Angel meant when he told them about a Savior, a Messiah. They remembered the old prophecies. They remembered with anticipation.

And the Star was for those who were still searching, those still unsure, those still with questions, those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.

A friend reminded me that God sent both the Angel and the Star because God always meets us where we are... 

Never leave dry dog food or cat food outside overnight. If you do, chances are that sooner or later something other than your furry family member will amble up to help themselves. 
One of the most startling creatures to belly-up to the kibble buffet is the opossum. 'Possums aren't particularly dangerous to humans (unless they are rabid). But they have mastered the art of looking scary. Flick on the porch light and catch a possum snout down in the dog's bowl and you will be rewarded with glowing red eyes, snarling sharp teeth, grisly growling, and a horrible hissing sound. Not to mention the fact that a possum looks a whole lot like a huge, giant rat. It's actually a marsupial, more related to a kangaroo or a koala bear. Opossums are to koala bears what raccoons are to red panda bears. But after one nighttime encounter with a startled opossum, you'll think "Rat."  

But if you step slowly outside to confront the critter, instead of rushing it and leaving it feeling cornered, the possum is far more likely to suddenly shift from scary to supine. The phrase, "playing possum" comes from the very real defensive technique possum's employ when they are confronted by a larger opponent. They fall over, go stiff, and for all the world, look as dead as a doornail. The possum's strategy is that if they look like they are dead and gone, then their enemy will give them a sniff or two and then leave them there to rot. When the danger - whether a person, a dog, a cat, or a car - has passed, the possum miraculously comes back to life and trundles off - after finishing the remainder of Fido's food, of course.

"Playing possum" is a trait human's have mastered as well... 
2. Where Are You Looking for God?

We begin with a story from a collection of the lives of saints - the saints of Islam - which concerns a king of Balkh (now northern Afghanistan), named Ebrahim ibn Adam. Ebrahim was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well.
"One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: 'Who's there?' 'A friend,' came the reply from the roof. 'I've lost my camel.' Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: 'You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?' 'You fool!' the voice from the roof answered. 'Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?' The story goes on, according to Jesuit theologian Walter G. Burghardt, to tell how these simple words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint (Still Proclaiming your Wonders: Homilies for the Eighties [New York: Paulist Press, 1984], 55).

The camel on the roof raises the Epiphany question, Where are you looking for God? This compelling question of life properly stands at the beginning of a new year, just as Where have you found God? nicely serves as a question to cap a year's closing.

Leonard Sweet 
3. The Parable of the Birds

Do you remember Louis Cassels' famous parable of the birds? It was Christmas Eve and the man's wife and children were getting ready to go to church. He wasn't going. "I simply can't understand what Christmas is all about, this claim that God became man," he told his wife.

It had been snowing all day and it was beginning to snow harder as the man's family rode off to church without him. He drew a chair up to the fireplace and began to read his newspaper.

A few minutes later, there was a thudding sound at the kitchen window. When he went to investigate, he found a flock of birds out in the back yard. They had been caught in the storm, and in a desperate search for shelter, were trying to fly through the kitchen window. He was a very kind man so he tried to think of something he could do so the birds wouldn't freeze. "The barn!" he thought. That would be a nice shelter.

He put on his coat and overshoes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn and opened the door wide and turned on the light. But the birds didn't come in. Food will bring them in he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail to the barn.

But the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around waving his arms. They scattered in every direction except into the warm, lighted barn. "They find me a strange and terrifying creature," he said to himself, "and I can't seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me."
Puzzled and dismayed, he pondered this thought, "If only I could be a bird myself for the moment, perhaps I could lead them to safety." If only I could be a bird myself . . .
Just then the church bells began to ring, pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. The man stood silently for a minute, then sank to his knees in the snow.
"Now I understand," he whispered as he lifted his gaze to the sky. "Now I see why You had to become man."

 Louis Cassels, The Parable of the Birds
4. How Do We Hold onto the Feeling? 

Just a few days later, the needles are falling, the poinsettias are drooping, and the cookies are stale. How do we hold onto the feeling? How do we hold onto the warmth, the wonder, the welcome of Christmas?

* Christmas letters - offering graceful glimpses of old friends;
* That rare mother/daughter afternoon, creating the most perfect Christmas of our lives;
* American soldiers sharing Christmas with war-scarred children;
* Virginia neighbors sharing love with a Pentagon widow;
* A Christmas pageant, so full of joy and giggles and energy, that I know God was smiling;
* A rippling harp lifting human voices to heaven;
* That sea of candles, shimmering with hope and memory, in the dark womb of this sanctuary.

Yes, my friends, if we try, we can hold onto the feelings, the images, the memories. But we will need to struggle to let this fresh incarnation, this tangible, touchable God carry us through the rest of the year. For the way things really are has already come crashing down upon us. This morning, before the baby has even digested his first decent meal, the gospel writer has us running - fleeing from danger and death and despair. Yes, Matthew forces us to deal with the rest of the Christmas story. And the reality is that the incarnation of good, of God, leads quickly to the incarnation of evil - not only 2,000 years ago, but today, here, now. 

Susan R. Andrews 
 5. Letting Go of Treasures 

Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. That something is it destroys the demon, greed."
Richard Foster
 6. As Long As There Is Hope

A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University carried on an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container they made the hope of escape a possibility for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally giving up. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of our common conclusion. We usually say, "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Duke experiment proved, "As long as there is hope, there is life."

Brett Blair
7. A Legend of the Magi and the True Story 

There is a beautiful old tradition about the star in the East. The story says that when the star had finished its task of directing the wise men to the baby, it fell from the sky and dropped down into the city well of Bethlehem. According to some legend, that star is there to this day, and can sometimes still be seen by those whose hearts are pure and clean. It's a pretty story. It kind of makes you feel warm inside.

There are other legends about this story of the wise men from the east. For instance, how many wise men were there? In the old days in the east, they believed that there were 12 men who made the journey, but now most everyone agrees there were three. One old legend even tells us the names of the three. Melchior was the oldest of the group, with a full beard. He gave the baby the gift of gold. Balthasar also had a beard, but was not as old as Melchior. He presented the gift of myrrh. The youngest of the three was Casper, who had no beard yet, but did present the gift of frankincense to the baby. Yet another legend goes on to tell us that after seeing the baby, the three continued traveling as far as Spain, telling the world the good news about what they had seen. These stories bring the wise men a little more to life, and add some color to the meaning of Christmas. They can also get in the way.

The problem with legends is that sometimes they add color to stories that don't need any additional color. In fact, sometimes legends are so colorful, they are unbelievable, and can end up making the entire story unbelievable as well. Kind of like that star falling in the well. It makes you warm inside. It also makes you wonder.

I am not out to ban legends, but I do think it might be worthwhile to hear the story one more time, the way it was told the first time. I need to hear it anyway, and you are welcome to listen along if you like.

 John B. Jamison
8. Do It Anyway!

Herod was a power-hungry ruler whose actions reeked of evil. We can't explain his actions, or the actions of anybody else who acts in evil ways.

And despite our best efforts to create an atmosphere of cooperation and kindness, it is unrealistic to think we are going to eliminate from the face of the earth divisive, rude, evil people. Our only choice, unless we want to give in or give up, is to work around the evil. Yes, this is an imperfect world, but that does not relieve us of our responsibility to work for what is good and right. If anything, the evil present in our world only accentuates the need for us to do something.
Someone wrote a short piece about rejecting the nay-sayers and taking the higher road. They titled it "Anyway." Here it is:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway!
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway!
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway!
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway!
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds. Think big anyway!
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for some underdogs anyway!
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway!
People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway!
Give the world the best you have and you will get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have any way!
9. “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” Little Amy was looking through the family album and found a picture of a man sitting behind a cow. All that was visible was the man’s legs and feet. When her photographer uncle who owned a photo studio came to visit her mother, Amy told him, “This is the only picture of my grandfather that we have. So please remove the cow so that I may see what he looked like." It is the same curiosity which led the magi to follow the star of Bethlehem.  A survey was made among school children asking why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” The same element of suspense marked the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit was going to take them down next. Today’s readings invite us to have the curiosity of Amy and the school students so that we may discover the ‘epiphany’ of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere.
10.  An epiphany in the airport. We spot what looks like a mom, a dad, and three teenage daughters. The girls and their mom are each holding a bouquet of roses. We are wondering what the story is. Whom are they expecting? The dad keeps looking at his watch. The mom keeps turning her head to make sure she hears each airport announcement. Finally the door opens. First come the "rushers"--men and women in suits with briefcases and bags over their shoulders, rushing towards phones, bathrooms, and their cars or rent-a-cars. We're still wondering and watching to learn whom this family we've been studying is there to meet. Then out come a young Marine, his wife, and their obviously brand-new baby. The three girls run to the couple and the baby. Then Mom. Dad. Hugs. Kisses. Embraces. "OOPS! The flowers!" But the baby is the center of attention. Each member of the family gets closer and closer to the mother and each opens the bundle in pink to have a first peek at this new life on the planet. We're seeing it from a distance. It's better than the evening news. Then we notice several other smiling people also watching the same scene. There are many other hugging scenes, people meeting people, but this is the big one. We're smiling too. A tear of joy. What wonderful moment we are photographing into our memory. We're thinking, "Family! Children! Grandchildren!" This is what life is all about. We're experiencing an epiphany. Life is filled with them. Praise God! 
11. The Sunday school teacher asked the first graders, "What gifts did the
wise men bring the Christ Child?" A smart boy replied, "Uh, gold,
Frankenstein and mermaids." "What did the two-year old child Jesus say to the Magi?" Another boy said: "That big animal, that's what I want! I want that camel!"
12: A little girl and her mother were looking at the Nativity scene. The mother was explaining that the Wise Men were presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn King. The little girl looked in great adoration at the babe in the manger, then turning to her mother, thoughtfully asked, "Why didn’t they bring Him a bed.?"