Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2- 3a, 5-6; Mt. 2: 1-12
Do you know what would have happened if it had been three wise WOMEN instead of men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought disposable diapers as gifts!
In a small southern town in Texas there was a nativity scene that showed great skill and talent had gone into creating it. One small feature stood out. The three wise men were wearing firemen’s helmets. Totally unable to come up with a reason or explanation, a visitor decided to ask a local what it meant. At a shop on the edge of town, he asked the lady behind the counter about the helmets. She exploded into a rage: ‘People these days never do read the Bible!’ The visitor assured her that he did, but simply couldn’t recall anything about firemen in the Bible. She jerked her Bible from behind the counter and ruffled through some pages, and finally jabbed her finger at a passage. Sticking it in his face she said, ‘See, it says right here, “The three wise man came from afar.”
In the stories of Jesus’ birth, two special groups of people came to visit the new-born babe: the shepherds and the magi. The church has no special feast to commemorate the visit of the shepherds but we have this special feast of Epiphany today to celebrate the visit of the magi. Why is that? It is because the visit of the magi is an eye-opener. The shepherds learnt of the birth of Jesus through a direct revelation from angels appearing in the midnight sky. This is direct and supernatural revelation. Many of us have no problem with that. The magi, on the other hand, learnt of the birth of Jesus by observing a star. The star did not say anything to them. They had to interpret this natural sign of the star to know what it meant and where it led. The visit of the Three Wise Men is a unique story that opens our eyes to the fact that God is not limited to any one group of people or religious tradition.
Three wise men travelled a long distance risking their lives to see the King of the World. We all have a lesson to learn from them; for we know how many of our Catholics give all kinds of excuses for not coming for Sunday Mass or other celebration. The Epiphany can be looked on as a symbol for our pilgrimage through life to Christ. The feast invites us to see ourselves as images of the Magi, a people on a journey to Christ.
Today’s Gospel also tells us the story of three groups of people; 1st) King Herod considered Jesus a potential threat to his kingship. Herod the Great was a cruel and selfish king who murdered his mother-in-law, wife, two brothers-in-law and three children on suspicion that they had plotted against him. Today, many oppose Christ and his Church because of their selfish motives, evil ways and unjust lives. Children still have Herods to fear. In the United States alone, one and a half million innocent, unborn children are aborted annually.
2nd) The scribes, Pharisees and the Jewish priests knew that there were nearly 500 prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the promised Messiah. They were able to tell Herod the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth. And yet they refused to go and see the child Jesus — even though Bethlehem was quite close to Jerusalem. They were more interested in their own selfish gains than in discovering the truth. Today many Christians remind us of this group. They practice their religion from selfish motives, such as to gain political power, prestige and recognition by society. They ignore Jesus’ teachings in their private lives.
3rd) This group was composed of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds offered the only gifts they had: love, tears of joy, and probably woolen clothes and milk from their sheep. When we visited the Turkana people in Kenya, we were overwhelmed with the gifts they gave us although they were extremely poor shepherds. The Magi offered gold, in recognition of Jesus as the King of the Jews; frankincense, in acknowledgment that He was God, and myrrh as a symbol of His human nature.
Let us ask ourselves now to which group do we belong?: the destructive group like Herod, or the group that ignored Christ like the scribes and Pharisees or the group that adored Christ and offered gifts like the Shepherds and Three Wise Men?
Let us conclude with a 19th century English carol: “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!” As we give our insignificant, little gifts to God, the good news is that God accepts them.