Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – January 8, 2023

In his message for the 56th Annual World Day of Peace celebrated a week ago on January 1, Pope Francis reflected upon the many struggles that have enveloped our world during the past few years, particularly the Covid-19 health crisis.  The greatest lesson that we have learned from this challenges is that “we all need one another. Our greatest and yet most fragile treasure is our shared humanity as brothers and sisters, children of God. None of us can be saved alone.”  The Holy Father went on to state that “this experience has made us all the more aware of the need for everyone, including peoples and nations, to restore the word “together” to a central place. For it is together, in fraternity and solidarity, that we build peace, ensure justice and emerge from the greatest disasters.  …  Only the peace that comes from a fraternal and disinterested love can help us overcome personal, societal and global crises.”

Pope Francis’ words speak powerfully to today’s celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord.  Far from simply being the romanticized conclusion to the Christmas season, Saint Matthew shares the story of the magi’s arrival in Bethlehem as a challenge to all of us who seek peace and a way forward in life.

More than any others who arrived in Bethlehem, the magi seem to represent all of the different types of individuals to whom the message of salvation is addressed:  faithful souls, yes, but also – outsiders – seekers – latecomers – you and me.  …  Let’s consider how the magi speak to us.

First, the magi are outsiders.  They didn’t belong.  They were different.  Yet, as Pope Francis noted, the magi “are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as our good and faithful Father. The magi represent men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity.” 

As such, the presence of these outsiders is a challenge to all of us about the manner in which we welcome individuals who are different than ourselves into our churches – and particularly into our lives.  …  How generous is our welcome of the poor, who are more noticeable in our world today than ever before?  …  How generous is our welcome of immigrants who knock at our doors every day seeking a peaceful place to care for their families, whether they are fleeing brutality in countless lands throughout the globe or victims of the horrendous war in Ukraine?  …  How generous is our welcome of those who seek a place in our lives, our neighborhoods and our churches whose lifestyle choices are more varied than we would like to see?

Yet, today’s gospel is very clear in conveying the fact that there were no outsiders at the birth of Jesus.  Indeed, it is a stark reminder to all of us that no matter how much we may believe that we have cornered the market on God, we are all recipients of his mercy and love, for we all stand on the peripheries of life looking for love and acceptance – because of our life styles, our behavior, our addictions, our struggles and so many other aspects of our lives.  …  Thankfully, the message of the gospel that is proclaimed on this great feast is that all of us are welcome to encounter the Christ.  No one is excluded from the love of God. 

The magi were also seekers.  They were looking for something more in their lives.  …  They crossed the desert and made their way to Bethlehem with a certain amount of doubt.  They weren’t sure of the path that they were taking.  They asked questions.  They looked for signs.  They made mistakes.  …  They did the types of things that we all do as we move through life trying to make sense of things.  They really were much more like each of us in our life journeys than we might be inclined to believe.

Pope Francis reminds us that the magi “personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland. They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts be anesthetized.”  Moreover, the magi possessed something unique.  They possessed the humility and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome Jesus.  …  Their following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God.  Nor were they deterred on the journey.  …  Their search mirrors our own life-long search for forgiveness, mercy and peace. 

Finally, the magi were latecomers to Bethlehem.  They didn’t get there early on.  It took them a bit of time to decide whether it was worth their time and effort to set out on the journey to Bethlehem in the first place.  …  Yet, even though we might find ourselves a bit critical of such individuals or inclined to question the authenticity of their newfound faith, the gospel tells us that they – the magi and those of us who are like them – are welcomed by Jesus.

Ultimately, brothers and sisters, the magi’s journey and arrival in Bethlehem offer a consoling and hope-filled opportunity for each of us to see our journey of life and faith reflected within their own.  In short, the magi found the fulfillment of all that they were seeking in their lives.  So will we, if we engage the journey of faith honestly and are humble and wise enough to both welcome and walk together with those whom we encounter along the way.