Today, we witness the story of the Magi and their epiphany. These Magi, who were not Jewish (most likely from Babylon), were searchers for the truth and they would not stop until they found it. We hear in the Gospel that they followed the star; but we can see that they also allowed their own expectations and assumptions to influence them. What they found was not what they expected, it was not in their realm of possibility. They were surprised.
In searching for the ‘King of the Jews’ they followed the guiding star but stopped in Jerusalem expecting to find him there; after all, wouldn’t a king be found in the King’s city? ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him’ they asked the inhabitants of Jerusalem and they quickly realized that their assumption was wrong. What they found was not a well-positioned family with a royal child – but confusion and intrigue; so they looked up to the heavens again and the star reappeared and led them further – out of the royal city and to a little town of shepherds and villagers. Their expectations were off; but still, they were searching for the truth, the ‘King of Jews’, and so their hearts were open to how God revealed Himself. ‘…and they fell down and worshiped him’
We have the advantage of growing up with the Bible – we didn’t have to go into foreign and dangerous lands following a star. We have heard time and time again the story of the Nativity and the Magi – and it seems comfortable; however it is nonetheless a surprising story in the eyes of human expectation. But why should this be a surprise? Why should we expect to understand and anticipate what God does? ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…’ we hear Him tell us through the prophet Isaiah.
God, makes it clear throughout the history of salvation that His plans and ideas are beyond our expectations and comprehension. ‘The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand…’ He announces through Isaiah. Christ will go on to baffle the wise and educated, the good-willed, His enemies, even the faithful. Those around Him will continually be surprised as He reveals Himself and His Father. Mary, surprised from the moment of Gabriel’s greeting; Joseph, surprised from the moment of Mary’s pregnancy; the shepherds surprised by the heavenly hosts. Satan’s howl of delight at the crucifixion turning into howls of rage when he realizes God’s designs.
God reveals Himself as He wills and His message will strike our hearts at unexpected times. Our lives will be jolted by the promptings of the Holy Spirit when least expected. God will affect us to change us – on His terms. What His arrival in our hearts will mean to us will be different for each, but it will be the same in its surprising suddenness. Epiphanies are by their very nature surprising because they are awakenings; they are life altering.
The very last line of today’s Gospel tells us what happens when we encounter God with open hearts in these sudden moments: ‘they departed to their own country by another way.’ The Magi, finding the truth, the messiah, were changed; what was previously important – now was not. They couldn’t live as they had after seeing God enter their lives. We should not expect to be the same after God inserts Himself into our journey. We should be prepared to view our lives differently after the Holy Spirit prompts us. But most importantly; we should desire this change – we should desire surprises from God.
Brothers and sisters search for God everywhere and all the time. Be as the Magi who searched for the truth and allow yourself to be guided by God; the Magi had the guiding star, we have God’s Son. Search for God everywhere but know he will appear as He wills it. Don’t cloud the eyes for your heart with your preconceived ideas because you leave an opening for the king of half-truths. Again, keep your hearts open as the Magi did and you will be rewarded. We see with the Magi that when their expectations failed them, their desire for truth didn’t, and when their hearts were opened again they ‘they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’
This year the feast of the Epiphany and the whole season of Christmas speaks to my heart with one single phrase: ‘Allow yourself to be surprised’; I pray the same for all of you!