Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – January 7, 2024 

When I was a young boy, typically, on Christmas Eve, while my family’s nativity scene was placed under our Christmas tree, it was my responsibility to oversee the journey of the magi – the three kings.  On Christmas Eve, they generally started their treck somewhere in our dining room. And every day thereafter, throughout the Christmas season, they moved just a bit, occasionally being quite visible on a tabletop or a shelf but often being tucked away on the floor in a corner of the room. Around New Year’s Day, they would arrive in our living room where they would become much more visible with the goal of their journey in sight, guided, of course, by the star on the top of our Christmas tree. …  I suspect many of you are quite familiar with this time-honored tradition of recreating the journey of the Magi to greet the newborn Christ-Child.

The gospel writer Matthew, however, chronicles the magi’s journey less to create a sensational ending to the story of Jesus’ birth and much more to provide us with a vision into the message and mission of Jesus – the Messiah and Savior.

The magi were individuals who, despite their great wealth and power, were unfulfilled. As such, they undertook an arduous journey, knowing well that their desire to experience a life of meaning, purpose and peace was hardly fulfilled in possessions, power and prestige. They would soon discover that all that they sought in life would be found in something quite unexpected:  a child born in a stable, of all places – born to bring the life, love and mercy of God to our world.

In last year’s homily for today’s great feast, Pope Francis invited us to reflect upon the struggle and longing of the magi that prompted them to journey to Bethlehem, reminding us that Epiphany is our story as well – told in a different time and era but with the same directions, the same goal and the same story’s end.  Listen to the Holy Father’s words. “Like the magi, deep in our hearts, we find ourselves before the irrepressible questions that lead us to seek the Lord and to grow in faith: Where do I find happiness? Where do I find that fullness of life to which I aspire? Where do I find a love that does not fade away, a love that endures even in the face of frailty, failure and betrayal? What hidden opportunities are present in the midst of my crises and my sufferings?”

Pope Francis then went on to remind us that the real gift of the magi for us was is discovered in the risk that they took to open their hearts to the grace of God.  “Without a continuous journey in constant dialogue with the Lord, without attentive listening to his word, without perseverance, faith cannot grow. It is not enough to entertain some vague idea about God, to say some prayer that salves our consciences. We need to become disciples, following Jesus and his Gospel, bringing everything to him in prayer, seeking him in the events of our daily lives and in the faces of our brothers and sisters.”

More than ever, brothers and sisters, our world and our lives need to embrace the message of God that is proclaimed this day.   But this great feast also reminds us of something else that we’d do well not to forget.  It reminds us of God’s all-inclusive love. Any limits we try to place on it simply do not hold.

What do I mean by such a statement? The magi were Gentiles, not Jews. As such, they didn’t belong in Bethlehem. They were different. Yet, these outsiders from the East were clearly welcomed and were given a special place among those who came to worship the newborn king of the Jews.Their presence reveals a powerful lesson for us all. We are saved not because of who we are or by our own righteousness but by the mercy and love of God won for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The magnitude of this mercy and love can never be limited by me or you. The magi understood that reality well. Frankly, however, it is a reality that can be challenging, especially when someone we judge unworthy seeks to walk with us in faith.

My friends, the message of this great feast of Epiphany – which is at once both consoling and challenging – reminds us that Jesus does not remain in a manger forever. He went forth to embrace the work given to him by his Father:  A mission grounded in humble service – unconditional, sacrificial love – and unlimited forgiveness and compassion. These are the real gifts of Christmas – gifts available to all who open their hearts to Jesus’ presence – from those who worship with reverence and devotion – to the suffering poor who are unable to find their way to a church – to refugees and immigrants seeking a better life – to modern day victims of terrorism and war in the Middle East, Ukraine and beyond – to the magi of our time: every soul who seeks meaning, purpose and a way forward in life through an encounter with the living God – including me and you.