Homily for January 5

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Homily for Epiphany 2020
Scriptures for today's Mass

Just a brief quiz based on the gospel we all just heard…

Q.    How many kings are mentioned in the gospel story today? 
3, 2, 1?
A.  Two: Jesus and Herod

Q.    How many wise men were mentioned in the gospel today? 
3, 2, 1?
A.  None. Today’s gospel doesn’t mention any wise men at all.

Q.    How many magi were mentioned in the gospel today?    
3, 2, 1?
A.  The gospel doesn’t give us a number - it just says, “Magi”
And a bonus question:
Q.  What are magi?
A.  A magus was an astrologer or a practitioner of the occult!
Magi is the plural of magus.

That’s who came seeking Jesus:
some Persian priests of the occult.

The confusion comes because we listen more carefully
to the lyrics of our opening song than we do to the gospel.
The song poetically assumes
that only royalty could have afforded gifts
of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
And since there were three gifts, an assumption was made
that there must have been three royal persons, three “kings”
and that’s what we find in music, in art
and in nativity scenes in churches and in our homes.

It’s a curious tale in the gospel here:
visitors from some unnamed place in the east
seeking the Christ Child by a star’s guidance.
I wish St. Matthew had given us an even more detailed report
but he does tell us some things about the magi’s journey
that might be valuable for us to consider on our own path.

First, in following the star, the magi had to look up
and out of their own experience,
beyond the ordinary routine of their day-to-day.
They had to pay attention to something, to someone
outside, above and beyond them
even while they were following that star to lead them
to a particular place, an individual person
whom they wanted to meet.

And to follow that star,
the magi had to leave behind what they knew best
(the comfort of home, of the familiar,
of life as they had known it )
in order to make their way to something, to someone,
yet unknown to them.

And in following the star,
the magi had to let go some measure
of their self-determination
and let God have a free hand in charting their journey
and mapping the route to their future.

Perhaps the importance of the magi
rests less in their finding the Christ Child
and more in what they were willing to sacrifice in seeking him:
their willingness to let go some things
for the sake of finding something more valuable;
and their letting God stake a claim on their hearts
and have a hand in guiding, directing their life’s journey.

Epiphany’s star invites us, as it invited the magi:
to look up,  beyond the routine of our day to day,
to what might be if we follow the Lord’s lead.
The star invites us to follow a light not of our own invention,
a light leading us beyond our comfort zone.
Epiphany’s star invites us to leave behind
things we cling to and depend on,
trusting that God will provide gifts of far greater value.
The star invites us to let go some of our own plans
to see what God might ask or offer or invite us to.

Some will find such suggestions impractical and foolish;
wise men and wise women
will find them filled to overflowing
with possibility and promise.
How about you and me?
Will we rely on our own sense of direction
to serve as the GPS on the dashboards of our hearts
or will we be wise enough and courageous enough
to follow a star? to follow the star of Jesus? to follow Jesus?

It’s not an easy question.
I don’t think it was easy for the magi, either.
Even after following the star and finding the Child,
there must have questions lingering in their minds.
I tried to imagine
the conversation the magi might have had in the caravan,
on their way home
after finding and visiting the Holy Family.
I invite you to close your eyes and imagine that caravan, the camels,
the Magi and their conversation.
Perhaps it went something like this:

• Frankincense, gold and myrrh,
that's what we came with -  now we go home empty-handed.

• Empty saddlebags on the camels
and hearts filled with questions…

• I wonder: did we leave the presents with the right king?
There was Herod, in a palace: warm, fine and comfortable,
and the Child in a barn: all muck and hay – and oh, the smell!
Did we leave the presents with the right king?

• Oh, I think so!
Remember Herod’s eyes, green with envy?
But ah, the innocence of the child
who but cried… and nursed… and slept…

• Yes, the Child! I think I saw him smile once!

• And clearly, his parents needed the help.

• But what newborn’s parents would have turned down the gold?

• Not to worry: they were honest folk…
You could see it in her face
and in the way he cared for her and for the baby.
They’ll save our gifts for when they need them
and mark my words: they will need them…

• But did we find the one we were looking for?
Was it his star?

• His star it was, indeed:
a star of mystery, beyond the wisdom of us all.
We may not understand, but we know  --  it was his star…

• What next, then?  What will we tell the folks at home
of what we saw - and didn’t see?

• And what will they think of us
when we tell of a manger for a throne  -  and a stable for a palace?

• They’ll likely think us fools!
I wonder, still, myself if we found any-thing  - or every-thing
- or even more than we know…

• Well, a trip we won’t forget, that’s sure,
nor him we found, nor those we met along the way…
And the angel in the dream, with a warning – just in time!

• Now this way home, by another way…

• A new way now  -   the way of dreams…

• So mind the star  --  it’s still above…

• But fading fast, so keep the pace…

The light of faith, the light of that star, is still above
and has led us today to the altar today:
not to a manger where animals feed
but to a table where the Lord feeds his people.

As the magi found him long ago,
may we find Jesus today in his Word,
in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist
and in one another.

Star of wonder, star of night; star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light!


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