January 6, 2012
For the Feast of Epiphany
That silly satire is my earliest impression of the Magi. But it hardly merits the feast day offered every year on the Feast of Epiphany, celebrated on January 6. On this day we're encouraged to look at the freshly incarnated Jesus through the eyes of "wise men."
In his book The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us, the second volume in our Resonate series, Matt Woodley gives us a true sense of the meaning of epiphany, the discovery of the Christ that vindicates every journey, no matter how difficult or seemingly hopeless. An excerpt from Matt's book follows.
The Magi represent a universal human drive to embark on a quest. Their stargazing wasn't recreational or philosophical; it signified the red hot coal stuck in their throat, their longing for joy, their participation in the search. After intently watching the stars and planets, after reading the signs and searching the clues, they embarked on a quest. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea," Matthew tells us, "during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?'" (Mt 2:1-2). We don't know much about them, but we can assume this was a costly search driven by deep desire. In one sense the Magi represent all of us--seeking, questioning, longing human beings who awaken to life as a quest.
But they also represent something about God, for the Magi are not only seekers; they are questers who have been outquested by God. According to Matthew, God initiated their long and costly journey through part of his good creation--a star (Mt 2:2, 9). They may have spotted the star, but God used the star to guide them out of their everydayness toward joy. God also guided them through his spoken word, refining their initial quest through an ancient Old Testament prophecy recorded in Matthew 2:6:
At each stage of their quest God sought the seekers, recapitulating the journey described by Augustine's prayer: "I should not have sought you unless you had first found me." . . . We start out the quest intending to discover something, but we end up being discovered. We think we are looking for something only to find that someone was looking for us. We assume we're ascending to God and realize that God is descending to us. This is divine mercy. . .
It's hard to miss the application for us: the questing God of Jesus, the God of grace, still seeks seekers, welcoming home sinners and outsiders. He still guides us step by step through nature, circumstances, relationships, failures, triumphs and especially the Holy Bible until we are led to worship King Jesus. The church, living at the foot of Jesus' crib and cross, should do no less.