Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which is the day the Magi finally arrived to worship the child, Jesus. During Advent we discussed the Magi and their importance as a representation of Jesus coming to save the entire world and not just a select few. This week, I would like to focus on the actual journey the Magi embarked upon to find Him and how we all imitate that journey as we continually seek out Jesus in our own lives.
The first point to make is that, in order to set out on a journey toward Jesus, we have to make a choice. The Magi first engaged their intellects to examine the evidence available to them, particularly the Nativity Star, and then engaged their wills to set out to see where that evidence would lead them. While it is possible to set out on some journeys with no rhyme nor reason other than seeing where the wind takes you, it cannot be so on a journey to Jesus. The Magi had a goal – an end – and they made a decision to set out and reach that end. We are called to emulate the Magi in this sense. We are called to see the things around us that point us to Jesus, evaluate them, and make a conscious decision to use those things to lead us on a journey with a concrete, ultimate end: heaven.
Now, just because the Magi had an end point to their journey, it does not mean that they had a direct, straight, and uninhibited path to the end. If it was easy and direct, it might be considered a stroll. However, the word journey tends to evoke images of hills, valleys, road construction, detours, losing one’s way, faulty GPS, running out of snacks, and vehicle trouble. Of course, the Magi did not have to suffer through many of the modern inconveniences I mentioned, but they certainly had their fair share of difficulty, as something is always bound to go awry if one travels for any significant length of distance to reach an end. To embark upon a journey implies taking on some risks. Psalm 121 is often referred to as the traveler’s psalm and calls to mind some of this risk, but also reminds us from where our strength comes as we endure what lies between us and our goal. Psalm 121 begins, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Right away, the speaker sees the obstacles right in front of him, the hills, but keeps his eyes on the top, the goal. He does not look at the certain arduousness of the coming journey, beginning at the base of the hills. Rather, he affixes his gaze upon the goal and recognizes from where his strength and help will come, which is God.
While it is certain the Magi inevitably endured many unnamed obstacles on their journey, we are told definitively about one big one – Herod. Upon hearing the Magi were on a journey to seek out the newborn king, Herod became jealous and therefore devious. “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’” (Matthew 2:7-9). After the truth about Herod was revealed to them in a dream, the Magi avoided returning to Herod. He then ordered the killing of the Holy Innocents – all boys under the age of two, the first martyrs – in his jealous rage (Matthew 2:16).
Herod can represent anyone or anything in our lives wanting to separate us from our goal of reaching Jesus, whether out of jealously, pride, arrogance, or false promises of better things. The Herods in our lives can be people, but they can also be our sins or vices – people, things, or behaviors that deceive us and want to destroy our journey toward a deepening relationship with Jesus in our hearts. Perhaps you have had a person or two in your life who insist they have your best interest at heart, yet they make things more difficult for you on your path to Jesus. Perhaps you have a habit which is soothing in a worldly sense, but it is truly an obstacle on your journey to salvation. If and when you wise up to these people and things that stand in your way and try to circumvent them and their motives to throw you off, very often you will feel the ramifications of making such a courageous choice in avoiding them. These situations on our journey to salvation are, no doubt, extremely difficult, especially if we are dependent upon our own strength. However, God tells us, “…fear not, for I am with you be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish” (Isaiah 41:10-11). So, take heart on your journey toward Truth and be assured that by recognizing and avoiding the Herods in your life you will be rewarded.
The final thought I want to share regarding this journey to Jesus that we are all on, is that we are not alone. Although we do not know the exact number of Magi who arrived to pay Jesus homage at the Epiphany, we know there was more than one, as they are referred to in the plural sense. We also know that Jesus does not intend for us to journey alone on our mission of discipleship and eventual salvation: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” (Luke 10:1). He also tells us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20). The journey to salvation, to Jesus, is intended to be a communal activity by design. We all stumble, fall, and swerve off course from time to time. However, if we choose wisely, we can be surrounded by people, things, and habits that can guide us back on course, help us scramble over the boulders in our paths, and interpret the map. There will always be difficulties we cannot avoid on our personal journeys, but God gives us gifts in the people who are along the journey with us, who have the same goal in mind. This Epiphany, reflect on your journey thus far, including all of the hills and valleys. Take time to thank God for getting you through the rough parts and praise Him for the gift of the easy parts. Reflect on the Herods in your life who want to stand in the way of you and Jesus, but also your fellow travelers who have faithfully stood by you on your journey.