The Epiphany of the Lord

6 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12

There is often a real historical element to Gospel events that the writers use as a basis for bringing forth some revelation. This story is a perfect example. It makes the story complex and requires some time to sit with it turning over all the facets and elements that Matthew brings together. At the time Christ was born, the word “Magi” described powerful people from the Parthian empire just east of Judea. First readers of Matthew would know that Herod and Parthians were not friendly. The Parthians had invaded Judea just a few decades earlier. When they were eventually driven out, Herod took advantage of the chaos to size the throne. The Parthians never gave up a dream of coming back, and Herod knowing that as long as people saw him as a Roman puppet he would never be secure on the throne. So, when Parthians show up using the “K” word (King), Herod suspects someone is after his throne, and he goes wild; and the murder of infants is the result. What all this does in Matthew’s Gospel is put Jesus right in the middle of a political struggle that in the end, threatens and eventually costs him his life. Even though just a baby, in the first year of his life, huge forces rise up to threaten his mission. No matter what is going on between the Parthians and Herod, Jesus is at the center, and Herod’s actions begin to make the mission of Jesus, even as an infant, the center of attention, and a threat to those who have something to lose.

When the political situation begins to touch the religious situation, something more disturbing spins out of this story. Those religious leaders of the day had every reason to keep the peace – to not make waves so that they could continue running the Temple as they always had in spite of the occupation of the Romans. Their rituals gave them a living and did nothing to disturb the peace. It is both odd and disturbing that when these religious leaders are called upon to explain what the Scriptures foretold about a messiah, they could quote chapter and verse, confirming what was happening. Yet, they were complacent, unaffected, and not even curious. Have you not ever wondered why they didn’t throw everything aside and join up with these magi? They know that the prophecy was being fulfilled.  They missed the point entirely, and it set them up for what they continued to do with Jesus: block what God had begun.

My friends, this story reminds us that Immanuel is still waiting to be discovered. We can either be threatened by the possibility of that happening or know that it is happening remaining unaffected and not even curious, or we can get into the search which might take us to places we never thought of and invite to look toward people we never considered worthy. Our best bet is that we join these “magi” who are curious and willing to wander, look, inquire, and seek. All around us there are contemporary magi: young people hungry for spiritual nourishment they have not found among us. There are women, who feel like unwelcome outsiders when they come to offer their gifts. There are gay women and men who are judged and treated as though they were contagious, and there are foreigners at every boarder whose children are taken or who are chased off at gun point, because they might ask something of us. Even more sadly, ten percent of the U.S. population identify as “former Catholics” not because they lack faith, but because they have been hurt or betrayed. All of these people are also sincere seekers like the magi who made a mistake and went to the wrong place, powerful Jerusalem rather than the humble place, Bethlehem.

The star of this story could be like the sun in the morning giving us a wake-up call inviting us to get up, to get curious, to wonder, to look and seek because the really wise came with treasures of earth in their hands and left with the treasure of Heaven in their hearts. My wish and hope for this New Year is that anything that leaves us complacent and unaffected by the Gospel will be gone leaving us excited, joyful, and expectant about the final coming of Christ.

Father Tom Boyer