A reflection by Fr. Frank Hegel, SFM, on Isaiah 60.1-6, Eph. 3.2-3a,5-6, and Mt. 2.1-12.
Have you ever thought about how much we, as missionaries, emulate the wise men in today’s Gospel?
First of all, like the wise men, we reach out. Like the wise men we go out from our country of origin looking to encounter the newborn Christ child. We also see that the wise men undoubtedly encountered a few bumps along the road. We can assume that coming from distant lands there would be language problems to overcome. Discerning the path of the star must have necessitated the occasional course correction. Discerning the true intention of King Herod was probably one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. So too with us. We spend a great deal of time overcoming obstacles – learning a new language, immersing oneself in a new culture. The wise men brought expensive gifts from their abundance to the infant. In our own search for the newborn Infant we don’t bring expensive gifts. But we do bring gifts: the gifts of compassion, commitment, solidarity and hope. We bring who we are in our poverty and truth. That is enough. It is who we are. It is all God wants.
The Gospel story does sound strange. So, we often embellish it a bit. We assign the title of Kings to the wise men, limit their number to three, give them names that do not appear in the bible and pretend we know what the meaning behind each one of their gifts is. In fact, however, here we have some wisdom figures whose spirituality is based on celestial beings, following a single, unknown star across the desert who finally humble themselves before an unknown baby in an unknown town.
These wise men gain their wisdom from conversing with “star-beings”; trust a message given in a dream and return, not merely geographically, but wisdom-wise, by an “other way”. This “other way” is what Epiphany means.
As missionaries most of us went out to our various missions with a certain wisdom but we have returned by a different way. Most of us can say we were “humbled” – not humiliated – by what we found in the missions. Most of us can say we saw faith was more than knowing or seeing or understanding. Most of us came to see that simplicity is a wealth and that going without allows one to go within. Most of us can say we have returned telling a story that is different from the one we began telling when we went out.
The mystery of the Incarnation is that God, in a certain moment in time reached out to us in a special way. The incarnation is the whole cosmos presenting us with a myriad of faces of the Holy One. The Epiphany is God’s “divine showing off” to us that Jesus is that face which reveals him the best, not only to ourselves, but to all the nations as well.
And he came without bringing something to make his arrival or presence more pleasing. He came in poverty and truth.