Our celebration of Christmas began with the shepherds in Bethlehem visiting the new-born Messiah, and now it ends there with the arrival of the Magi in all their splendour. And what attracts our attention is that these three intelligent, well-read men, made the journey at all, guided only by a mysterious star, which stopped at an out of the way place with no visible signs of royalty or splendour. There they kneel in the dirt of a common stable to worship the new-born Christ and they offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Life was never the same for those three men after that discovery. Christ made all the difference to them, transforming their souls and calling them out of darkness into his own wonderful light.
The story of the Magi is timeless and has a relevance which holds true in every age. In a way it symbolises the religious journey of all people of good will who seek God, using only a glimmer of faith to point the way forward. The search for the truth always involves leaving something, of giving something up: it could be the comfort and security of home, perhaps a career, or even opinions and convictions in order to face the unknown. Such a journey requires courage, determination and hope, because the road to truth will always be lined with failure, doubt, ridicule and confusion. Deep down in our lives there is an uneasiness and also a yearning after freedom and happiness that can only be fulfilled when we experience the presence of God in our lives. We will never find lasting happiness in the accumulation of wealth and things. Only God can give us that consolation.
Like the Magi called from their own homes in a distant land, we are called to search for, and to discover, the presence of Christ in our own lives. And this is an on-going relationship, it continues until the day we die and it can’t be programmed, labelled or packaged. Each journey to find Christ is unique. And what’s important is that we be open and receptive in order to read the signs of the times, because Christ is being born every day of our lives, and we need the eyes of faith to see it.
Although God has come to us we shall only find him if we search for him and discover him, and we will find him only if we set out on a journey to meet him.
And Christ is to be encountered in the most unusual and varied of places. He can be found in the smile of a child, he can be found in the painful experience of a person sick in bed, he can be found in the bitter tears of a poor person and in the happiness of newly-weds. Whenever we look into the eyes of another person we are gazing into the eyes of Christ. When we meet other people we may not have gold, frankincense or myrrh to bring them, but we can offer them the priceless treasure of the presence of Christ within us. It’s hardly right then to come before people empty-handed, and with no gifts of encouragement to offer them on their pilgrim way. We are Christians not for ourselves or for our own sakes, but for the sake of others. Our faith isn’t something we keep for ourselves and hoard away; it has to be shared with others. That’s why we are all called to be missionaries, preachers, and witnesses of the Good News.
It’s no good at all if you go home after Mass today and hide your religion in the back of a drawer, or leave it on a shelf to gather dust until next Sunday. This Feast of the Epiphany teaches us that faith is for sharing. Faith is a gift that has to be given away if it is to grow. Just like sowing seeds in the ground: we have to literally throw away the seeds in order for them to take root, multiply and bear fruit. The same is true of our faith. If we keep it to ourselves and hoard it then it will slowly wither and die and we’ll end up having no faith at all. God has called each one of us and has given us the task of showing his Son; of manifesting his Son to everyone we meet. The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ – to make known. And so our religion means absolutely nothing at all unless we are prepared to manifest it; to share it with all the people we meet when we leave this place. We come to Mass in order to be nourished with the Bread of Life and when we leave here this morning our task is to be a leaven in the community. And do you think if we all did that then our society would change for the better? Change begins with you and me; and society will change only when the individual changes; only when you and I change.
And so, if you haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions yet, make one to be true to yourself, and resolve to live out in your daily lives the Gospel you proclaim with your lips here at Mass.