We do not know much about the Magi. The text does not tell us there were three, as they are often depicted in paintings and creches. We do not know if they came from different nations or races. We are not sure if they were priests, royalty or astrologers. Their anonymity makes it possible for Christian tradition to place much symbolic meaning on them: they have come to symbolize diversity of race, ethnic background and nationalities. As today's reading from Ephesians suggests, God's grace has revealed the mystery to us that all peoples, not just a chosen few, will come to discover their place as, "co-heirs," partners in the promise in Christ through the gospel. Matthew has depicted in the Magi the gospel truth that seekers from all nations will come to recognize Christ and be welcome in his presence. And, that the promise of Israel's being a light for the nations, as the prophets anticipated, is now fulfilled in Christ.
The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord epitomizes all of the longings in the human heart for intimacy with God. The Hebrew Scriptures were filled with promises about the coming of the Messiah. For the people, this meant liberation from oppression, from enemies, from poverty and slavery. But word of this promise filtered through to foreign nations, and touched a universal need for redemption and reconciliation.
The search goes on, even in our own time. People hunger for truth, for a sense of the nearness of God, for an understanding of the mysteries of life. They tend, so often, to look in the wrong places; they fail to recognize the face of God in ordinary circumstances.
God became present among the obscure; hidden in an out-of-the- way place. No splash, no "color commentator" to make God's presence exciting for the sporting spectator. Yet, it took three strangers from another place and tradition to recognize someone special. Does it take the outsider in our midst to help us see beneath the surface or admit what we have been afraid to admit about our lives? So many disclaim the presence of God in their lives or down play and hide the gifts they have. Sometimes it's the stranger or the person outside our familial surroundings who makes us aware of how gifted by God we are. People like teachers, mentors, religious guides, friends, etc., are often like the Magi visitors, who come from elsewhere and spot the divine light in us.
They "manifest" (for that is what Epiphany is about, the manifestation of God in our world) to us the God we have been overlooking. These are light-bearers, stars that guide us to meet the Holy Presence in our lives and in the world around us. They shine a light before us and encourage us to venture out, to see life and ourselves from another perspective.
The Christmas season comes to an end much more quickly than all of our preparations for its arrival. So we need to reflect over and over again about the lessons we are taught at Christmas. Each of us has, to one degree or another, given ourself over to God's plan for our lives. Day by day we renew that commitment of faith and trust, even though we often find that God's ways are not our ways.
Today we ask God to shake us out of our religious complacency and, like the Magi, stir up a hunger for God in us. We ask for the courage to let go of the comfortable and familiar and request the energy to once again go looking for God. We ask to be open to finding the holy in unfamiliar and "unholy" places. Today we seek forgiveness for accepting what is immediately around us and for being satisfied with the status quo. We seek the grace not to be disappointed when God isn't found in the routine of familiar prayers and predictable ritual. We look for a sense of wonder and awe in the little things of life that contain the spark of the divine. We desire the spirit of a searcher, one willing to look up and follow a star beyond familiar borders. We hope to be able to put aside barriers that keep us apart from "the others". We pray for the help to recognize the revelation of God, despite all appearances to the contrary.
The Good News of Christmas and Epiphany is "Emmanuel", "God-with-us!" We need only the light of strong, unwavering faith to see Him, to find Him, to serve Him in the people around us, the circumstances of our everyday living. We need only to believe in God's love for us - His unconditional, relentless love - and then we will more often recognize His presence and His power in sunrise and sunset, in storm and calm, in the faces of children and wisdom of the elderly, in moments of elation and heart-break. We will see His radiance and warmth behind every cloud of sorrow or failure that darkens our days.
Like the magi, our search goes on - but so does Epiphany! He is never far away, never hidden for those who look with faith.