Ephesians 3:2-3A, 5-6
“We Three Kings of Orient are bearing gifts, we traverse afar…”. So goes the popular song we’ll likely hear this Sunday. Each verse highlights one of the gifts the Magi bring. Homilies sometimes include a symbolic breakdown of each of the gifts and how they point to Christ’s kingship, priestly role, and his death. Most of us won’t see much gold in our lifetime, and we probably need to Google “frankincense ” and “myrrh”. At Epiphany, we often focus on what the wise men brought. All too rarely do we reflect on what brought them.
The Mass readings for the day include common themes. “Nations shall walk by your light.” “Look about; they all gather and come to you.” “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” “All kings shall pay him homage.” “The Gentiles are coheirs … and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” The Scriptures include a sense of gathering, of drawing forth and together. There’s something attractive about the glory of God.
The Magi knew it. “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” We call them saints for their devotion. But, interestingly enough, they likely died before Christ died and rose from the dead. A missionary apostle never reached them, and they were never baptized. We know little about them, their background, or their specific education. Were they truly kings? Were they learned scholars? Whatever their career, we know that they were truly wise men for their pursuit of truth and their openness to the revelation of God.
When increasing amounts of time are spent on screens passively consuming information, the Magi offer us unique gifts. These gifts aren’t tangible items brought to us. They’re attitudes of the heart that can bring us to the One who brought them to Bethlehem.
The first gift is curiosity. To know that the star was a meaningful sign, the Magi needed to be inquisitive. They needed to explore the world around them, to study it, to measure it, to grow in understanding. In many ways, our perspectives are the products of the information we take in. In an era where differences form divisions, the example of the Magi teaches us to be curious about the world, whether it’s economics, health care structures, parenting philosophies, the consumption of gluten, or Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Curiosity should extend to our faith as well. The Catholic Church is rich in Scripture, saints, sacraments, and more. There’s always a new area to explore!
The second gift is humility. The Magi weren’t Jewish. And yet when they encountered the star, its rising, and its deeper meaning in Jesus’ birth, their desire was “to do him homage.” The beauty of the sign attracted them. We, too, are invited to be humble before truth when we find it. Everyone has teachings of the Church that lead to questions. We all find some of our behaviors contradicting the Commandments or Beatitudes. There are certain “hard facts” of our faith that must be acknowledged and embraced with humility. Our encounters with other people – their stories, their viewpoints, their challenges – should also be approached with humble respect and dignity.
The third gift is movement. The journey from Persia to Palestine was no easy trek in the first century. The Magi’s pursuit of truth meant effort and sacrifice. If we’re serious about seeking truth, it will require something of us. “We cannot see Christ and remain as we are.” Like the Magi, we, too, are invited to draw near to God, to walk by the light of God’s truth, and to invite others to join us in gathering around the babe in Bethlehem.
This Epiphany, consider how God might be inviting you to grow in curious seeking, humble encountering, and movement towards truth.
O Lord my God,
teach my heart this day where and how to see you,
where and how to find you.
You are my God and you are my All
and I have never seen you.
You have made me and remade me.
You have bestowed on me all the goods things I possess,
Still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Teach me to seek you!
For I cannot seek you unless you teach me
or find you unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire.
Let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you.
Let me love you when I find you!
—Prayer of St. Anselm