Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3.5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
In the Church we speak of the ‘ministry of presence’, and rightly so. The presence of a convent of holy religious, for example, just by virtue of their presence in a parish can make an enormous difference. It is as though they mysteriously change the atmosphere, the air quality of the place. And it’s amazing how people will find their way to the convent door. There may be no star rising and halting over the roof but word soon gets round.
This miracle of presence is very much in evidence in the Christmas gospels. Jesus doesn’t do anything at all; he just arrives. Nevertheless, everything is different; the whole world has changed. We could almost say that the rest of the Scriptures, indeed the rest of human history, is really nothing more than the story of what individuals and groups do in response to this ‘presence in our midst’; a presence which ‘discovers’ us.
Today’s gospel is a microcosm – a miniature – of that drama.
The divine Infant has entered the world and now rests peacefully in his mother’s arms. Perhaps it would not be altogether wrong to recall here the words of Isaiah: He does not cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in the streets…(42:2).
Jesus has been sent by the Father in accordance with the Father’s plan and it is the Father's will to make the Child known: …a joy to be shared by the whole people Lk 2:10).
But observe how the Almighty goes about this. He sends an angel to announce the birth of the Redeemer first to some poor shepherds in a field watching over their sheep in the dead of night: And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing: 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favour (Lk 2:13-14)'.
Heaven opens its splendour and delivers its glorious message to a handful of nobodies. It’s as though the entire spectacle of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks were to be presented to just three or four individuals. A modern marketing manager would say to the Father, ‘Step aside, Lord, I’ll show you how to get your product out there.’
The Father’s next ‘grand move’ seems, humanly speaking, even more puzzling. By the guidance of another heavenly manifestation, this time a star, he draws three pagan astrologers from the East (Iran?) to the house where the infant Jesus is to be found with Mary and Joseph. Just three men from a foreign land!? Again we have the same ‘cosmic’ proclamation made to a tiny group of individuals.
To make matters worse, the wise men stop off at Bethlehem and alert precisely the wrong person to the birth of the ‘King of the Jews’. Herod is terribly troubled by the news and, typical of so many with vested interests, sets out to eradicate what he perceives as the threat.
What we see in this snippet from the life of Jesus is, in fact, a miniature of the drama of salvation which is to unfold, and which is still unfolding, among us. It is as though God has ‘sketched’ the outlines of the painting, outlines which the fulness of time will colour in.
And so, from the Epiphany event we learn a few truths:
- The Father is presenting the world with his only Son, born of the Virgin. He is indeed ‘King of the Jews’, as the wise men call him, but only when he is ‘exalted’ on the Cross will the title take on its most accurate meaning.
- The Father has a plan to make his Son known to the world. It is a sovereign plan; which, despite all resistance, will be fulfilled. Herod may plot but God’s purpose will be accomplished– the wise men will simply return ‘by a different way’.
- God sees the heart. The presence of God’s Son on earth will reveal what lies in the hearts of men. The Magi who travel to seek the divine child travel in a line as straight as their hearts; while Herod shows himself to be evil. He is the precursor of all those throughout history who will oppose Jesus in one way or another, trying to expunge him from the earth.
- God has come for all men. The Magi were pagans, perhaps even astrologers, and were invited to find and worship the Lord of the Universe. He was revealed to them and before him they fell to their knees and ‘did him homage’.
And at this point let us allow the spotlight to shift from these humble truth-loving and truth-seeking hearts to ourselves. What about us? What is our reaction to God’s presence in our midst?
We need go no further than his presence in the Eucharist. What is our … ‘position’; what stance do we take towards the Lord here present not only ‘among’ us – but ‘before’ us – in the tabernacle? How do we relate to his presence in the Scriptures; in the priest? And how do we relate to his presence in those gathered in his name?
In all four of those presences it is truly him; truly the same Lord as the Magi found.