Homily for Epiphany – January 6-7, 2017 – Salem - National Migration Week
After reading: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ps 72; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Magi from the east arrived. These were not Jews. They knew nothing of the one true God. How did they end up as part of our Christmas story? The magi are astrologers. They’re looking to the stars; they’re seeking truth as best they know how. And in following the star, in following that pursuit of truth, they find something they didn’t expect. Following the stars leads them to the Creator of the stars. As they seek truth, they find God. They didn’t believe in the one true God, but here they are, face to face with Christ.
Their story is a reminder to us of how Jesus came for all the peoples of the world. The Jewish Messiah wasn’t only for the Jewish nation, but also, for all of us. And the magi represent all the world coming before Christ; all the world linked together through that common love of God, through our shared image and likeness of God. The magi remind us that we’re called to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of differences in nationality, or race, or language: we’re all one in the eyes of God.
To some, the truth is dangerous. King Herod doesn’t want to follow the truth. He doesn’t want to hear the truth. King Herod doesn’t want to hear about the newborn king of the Jews. He wants to be the King of the Jews. He’s not listening to how the love of God calls us all to be one. He’s feeling too threatened, too insecure. And his paranoia over threats to his crown leads him to strike out against children, ordering the death of the innocent because of his own fears.
We’ve got magi, foreigners, who are opening themselves up to the mysteries that God wants to reveal for them. And we’ve got the King of the Jews rejecting God’s plan, rejecting the value of human life, rejecting Christ. King Herod should remind us of how easy it can be to lose the sense of the meaning of Christmas. When we don’t allow God to challenge us, when we think we have everything figured out ourselves, when we’re blinded by our own desires for gold, for prestige, we miss the opportunity to lay our gold before the One who would be a better King, to kneel before the One who is the one true God. If only Herod would do as he claims, “When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage.”
Instead, he orders the massacre of babies.
But, our gospel continues to tell us how the Holy Family was able to escape this attack on innocent life by becoming refugees fleeing their homeland and traveling to another country to avoid persecution. Jesus was born in solidarity with the poor in a humble stable. Now He joins His life with the immigrants who are forced to move by violence, by prejudice, by those in power who don’t give a thought to the effects of their policies on the innocent. Jesus came to be among us, the Word was made flesh, so that we would know Emmanuel, which means, “God with us”.
And He suffers through this forced migration to say that He is with us in the difficult times. He is with us when we’re forced into places we don’t want to go. He’s with us when we feel like the outsider. He’s with us when we feel like the powerless.
And this Christmas story calls us to be like the magi rather than like Herod. It calls us to step outside the comfort zone, to open ourselves to that which we don’t understand, to allow God to lead us to new places, and to keep our eyes open to see Christ in new ways. These magi, these pagans, didn’t know where they were going as they followed God’s promptings. They didn’t know what they would find when they opened themselves to seeking the truth. But by the end of the story, they were able to recognize the voice of God leading them. They were warned in a dream to travel back to their own country by another route, a new route, an unexpected route. And, having opened themselves to the truth, they were able to discern God’s voice in that dream, and able to trust that the love of God that had revealed Himself to them would continue to guide them in these new ways. Because Emmanuel remains God with us.