6 Jan 2013
“‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed His star at its rising and have come to pay Him homage.’” (Matt 2:2) In the name …
It took a while, but the Magi have finally reached the manger. Up until today we had their statues on the window sills of the East side of the church, representing their slow but steady journey to Bethlehem. We are still very much in the Christmas season even if some of you have already taken down your home Christmas trees. Driving around you can already see a bunch of them out by the curb of the street waiting to be picked-up and hauled away. But if you think the church’s Christmas season is a bit late, it’s nothing compared to the story we just shared as today’s Gospel. We hear today that the Magi, and by the way no number is ever offered of how many Magi there are, traditionally we only speak of three because of the three gifts they carry, but what we do hear described is that they begin their journey based on their observation of Jesus’ “star at its rising.”
And when we came together on the Feast of the Holy Innocents a few days after Christmas, we heard that when the Magi didn’t return to Herod because they had been warned in a dream about his sinister motives, that Herod ordered the massacre of all the baby boys of Bethlehem two years old and younger. This implies that when the Magi had stopped in Jerusalem to confer with the Jewish king they had mentioned to him that they had been following the star for two years. Even though some Christmas trees are out on the curb already, and some of you may be thinking that the church’s Christmas is just lingering around at this point, we’re really way ahead of the game because those Magi we just placed in the manger were looking for Jesus for two, full years!
There are all sorts of difficulties in the Christmas stories. There are even contradictions between the only two that we have. But the main thing is not the details of the stories, it’s their purpose. And the purpose of Matthew’s Christmas story is the dramatic tale of persistent searching. There were no easy paths for the Magi, but they made no excuses either. They didn’t give-up. Here’s another Christmas-story misconception: If you look at Christmas cards and that kind of thing, you see the star shining above Bethlehem with its light pointing right down at the manger. If that were the case, first of all, then the Magi would not have had to stop in Jerusalem and ask Herod about where to find the newborn King of the Jews. And maybe that’s a lesson for us too as we gather on this first Sunday of a brand new year. Maybe what Matthew is telling us isn’t only another detail about Christmas. Maybe it’s a lesson about persistence, that if we’re going to find Christ in the world then we’re going to have to put some real time and effort into it. We’re going to have to struggle and stick with it even when things are pushing back against us. We’re going to have to make a commitment to our faith.
Matthew’s story of the star is that Christ is there, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy and effortless to find Him. From the first story of the Gospel, and for that matter the first story of the New Testament, there is a message of spiritual challenge for believers. Matthew is daring us to move out beyond our own comfort zones just like when the Magi left their lands and traveled to unknown regions searching for the Christ. He’s confronting us with the good news that Christmas has changed God and it’s also looking to change us. The Magi is a tale of risk-taking. And Matthew is putting us in their place. Are we willing to be surprised by spirituality? Do we want to hear more than the usual platitudes of faith or unexamined words of the Bible, and seek out instead the hard work of being a real Christian in our relationship with God and in our connections with others? How hard are we willing to work to find Christ?
You know, the Bethlehem star tells us that Christ is there, but not easy to find, but that doesn’t mean He’s hidden. Another of the often overlooked details of Matthew’s Christmas story is that the Magi are over-whelmed with joy “on entering the house” of the Holy Family. Matthew doesn’t know anything at all about the manger story. He’s never heard about the angels and the shepherds. His Christmas story is about the Magi following the star and finally discovering the Holy Child in a house. His story jumps right over the actual birth of Jesus and tells us instead about the arrival of the Magi when Jesus may already have been about two years old. That’s when they come knocking on the door of Joseph and Mary’s house. And Matthew knows of no journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem like Luke shares with us. For Matthew the Holy Family was always in Bethlehem. This is why he has to explain how Jesus later ends up in Nazareth, but that’s another story for another time. So rather than looking for room at the inn, Matthew’s story has the Holy Family living an ordinary life in an ordinary house under ordinary circumstance.
We have the message of persistence. Now Matthew hits us with the news that most often Christ is going to be found in the ordinary. Here we don’t have heaven’s angels parting the skies and announcing that the child will be found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The Magi after years of journeying finally find the Christ in His house and with His mother. For as astonishing as the manger story was, this story is just as ordinary. It’s a mother and her child in their house. The beauty and the power of this message is how unexceptional it all is. Christ may not be easy to find, but He’s not hidden. He’s all around us and He’s here. This is the first Sunday of a new year. This is the time, this is the opportunity, to resolve that we will allow ourselves to be surprised by our faith. Tell me you want to join our Brotherly Love Society to do charitable things for our neighbours. Go to Sunday Mass. Challenge your faith. Ask questions of it. Don’t protect it, but see how you can advance it. Join our church groups. Think about coming to our Lenten discussions and to Bible study. Don’t let faith and knowledge be opponents. Use God’s gift of your intellect to better appreciate why we do what we do and then do it. But all of this requires persistence. That we may learn Matthew’s lesson of the Magi’s search, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo