Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which is the day the Church recognizes the arrival of the Magi from the East in Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king, Jesus. The essential importance of the Magi’s presence in Scripture is to establish that Jesus came as a savior for all nations and peoples, even pagan ones, as they also become beneficiaries of the promises that had previously only been made to the Jewish people. The Incarnation was for the benefit of all. (See CCC #528.)
Besides the fact that Jesus came to save each of us, let’s look at another aspect of what the Magi represent for you and for me, today. When the Magi embarked on their journey, they did not fully understand what they were seeking or what the journey would entail. There could have been dangers, lack of places to sleep, or limited access to resources, such as food and water. Perhaps there were very steep hills to climb and wild animals they might encounter along the way. They did not know what would lay ahead for them, but with blind faith they followed a bright star in the sky, trusting it would lead them to where they were being called. We, too, are called to follow that same star, trusting that, while we don’t know what treacherous things certainly lay ahead of us on our journey), as long as we keep our eye on the guiding light, we will end up at the destination God intends for us.
We can begin our own journey by acknowledging that God does seek us out as individuals and continually works to lead us in the right direction whenever we go astray. Ezekiel mentions twice in the same chapter that the Lord will seek His lost sheep: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out,” and “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and strong I will destroy,” (Ez 34:11, 16). Then, in the New Testament, Luke tells us, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Lk 19:10). Matthew writes, “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?” (Mat 18:12). As He was beginning His public ministry, Jesus sought and approached each of the Apostles, calling them by their names and telling them very clearly what He was asking of them. Each year, in the very season of Advent that we just experienced, we still wait with great anticipation for Jesus to come as an infant to save us from the terrible state of our sin. We are a helpless and needy people, who often find ourselves in need of a divine search and rescue team.
However, we should not become complacent on our spiritual journey, thinking that God should just keep showing up to pull us out of the many holes we dig for ourselves. Rather, we need to be vigilant, like the Magi, and recognize our own responsibilities in seeking out Christ and journeying toward Him, however far away we are from Him and no matter what lies between Him and us. There are many times in Scripture when the people seek Jesus – even more than when Jesus is seeking them. Here are just a few examples:
When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him, and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them. (Lk 4:42)
And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. (Mt 15:30)
So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. (Jn 6:24)
In Chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells us three very important stories. The first is the parable of the lost sheep and the second is the parable of the lost coin. Both of those parables are short and sweet and are about how the shepherd and the woman seek out what they love that has been lost and how they rejoice when they find it. The third, much longer, parable is that of the Prodigal Son. In this parable, the father watches for, but does not actively seek after his lost son. He allows him to go astray, while patiently waiting at home for him to return. The prodigal son, after experiencing a conversion of heart, completes the journey back to his father’s house. Again, we don’t know what kind of hardships he experienced on that journey, but we can be sure there were trials.
When God made man, he designed us to want to seek Him, whether we know it or not. The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. (CCC #27)
Even those individuals who seem to be the furthest away from God, are being drawn to Him in their hearts, and those of us who are close enough to hear Him calling our names should seek to move closer and closer to Him. Practically speaking, how do we do that? We imitate the Magi and the prodigal son by facilitating conversion in our hearts, rooting out that which is keeping us from Him, and by following the star with faith that, no matter the obstacles on our journey, we will be led directly to Him, where we belong.
I cannot finish this reflection without mentioning Jesus’ Blessed Mother, Mary. There is an ancient title, one of the first, for Mary – Stella Maris. It is Latin for, “Star of the Sea.” Appropriately, she is the patron of seafarers, who have often asked her to guide them through rough seas. She is usually depicted standing serenely over a rough sea as a beacon of light. The Church teaches that Mary always points us to her Son, which is why she is peaceful, knowing who is in charge of the violent waves. Stella Maris and the Christmas star are closely united, in that, they guide those on difficult journeys to Jesus with an unwavering and steadfast presence and light.
This week, gaze upon images of the Christmas star and Mary, Star of the Sea, and contemplate how the Magi and other travelers have allowed themselves to be guided by their light. Reflect on times in your life when you’ve experienced a conversion that has caused you to deepen your relationship with Jesus which, in turn, led you a little bit closer to home. Are there other areas in your life where you can take one more step in seeking Him? Are you able to take those next steps without fear of the wild animals or the rough storms you may encounter on the way and proceed with faith and trust?