Saturday, January 2, 2016

20160102 - Epiphany: Real Wise Men Seek Directions

What we don’t hear about in today’s Gospel is the fact that all three of the wise men were married.  What we don’t hear about is the fact the three wise men had wandered around in the desert for two years trying to find Jesus….and all the while, Belthazar’s wife Sheila kept insisting – ‘Why don’t you just stop at the next Oasis and ask for directions’.
I need to drive to Tuskaloocha…does anybody here know directions on how to get there?  Where is that, you say?  I don’t know, that ‘s why I’m asking you.  How can I find out?  I can google it, pull up mapquest, put it into my Garmin navigational doohickey, I might even try to watch the stars like the wise men…four different ways to find out how to get to Tuskaloocha.
Now, what if I need directions for how to get to Jesus?  What would you say?  Seriously think about that a minute… Can you tell me how to get to Jesus?  Honestly, I don’t know that I’d have a ready-to-give answer to that question myself – but I really think we ALL should have that answer.  How could I find out the best way to find Jesus?  If I google Jesus, I’ll find thousands – literally tens of thousands of churches who claim that THEY have the one and ONLY way to get to Jesus.
How can that be?  How is it that one guy named Jesus was here – a book called the Bible was written about him – and now 10’s of thousands of different churches have different interpretations? 
As Catholics, we believe that Jesus started ONE Church – a church we call the Catholic Church…and within it he gave authority to teach, baptize, and forgive sins.  He endowed it with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  He graced it with the seven Sacraments so that he could continue to reach out and touch his people through the hand of His ministers.  He inspired its leaders to write the Bible…that’s right, the New Testament writers were Catholics!  Why would Jesus start a Church?  To help people find him.  The Church is the Garmin navigational doohickey  for finding Jesus.
Now that doesn’t mean we have a corner on the market for getting to Jesus – and that’s what today’s feast is about.  You see, there were two important groups of people who came to see Jesus when he was an infant:  the shepherds and the magi.  We don’t have a special feast for the shepherds, but today’s Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the fact that three pagan wise men came to know Jesus.  That should shake us up!  These guys weren’t Catholic, they weren’t Christian, they weren’t even Jewish!  They tried to find God by reading the signs in the stars.  Most of us today don’t use the stars to navigate…– yet, they came to know Jesus through this method….so is it all bad?  The shepherds, on the other hand, found out about Jesus through direct revelation – when an angel appeared to them.  We don’t seem to have a problem with that, do we?  And yet, if I stood here and told you that an angel appeared to me last night, you’d think I was a little off my rocker.  Yet, we accept it as perfectly normal for these guys 2000 years ago to receive a vision from an angel. 
But there was a third group who came to know that Jesus was born.  Who?  Think through the story:
Ø  The shepherds came to know through a direct vision of angels.
Ø  The magi knew through a reading of the stars.
Ø  And King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures.
Visions, stars, scriptures -- different ways of arriving at the same truth. Of course this doesn’t mean that ANY method of finding Jesus is just as good as the other. Notice how Matthew indicates that when the guiding star got to Jerusalem its light failed and the magi HAD to stop and ask for directions… They were forced to consult the scriptures to direct them to Bethlehem. Obviously, since they were not familiar with the prophecies in the Jewish books, they had to get the help from the scribes in Jerusalem.  That is an important point:  Over and above the natural light of the star the magi still needed the SUPERNATURAL light of scripture to finally get to Jesus.
Yet the crucial question in the story remains: Who actually FOUND Jesus? Herod and his scribes who were the scripture “experts” FAILED to find Jesus, but the magi, who followed the natural light of the stars, WERE able to find him. Why? Because the Jewish authorities, even though they possessed the shining truth of revealed scriptures,…didn’t follow it. They did not walk in the light of the scriptures. The magi, on the other hand, who enjoyed only star light, followed its guidance. See - It is not the possession of the truth that matters, it is how prepared we are to walk in the light of the truth that we DO possess. It is better to have the dim light of the stars and follow it than to have the bright light of the holy scriptures and neglect it.  Ouch – I’m preaching to myself here – we can’t just relax knowing that we possess the fullness of truth – we have to actually act on it in order to find Jesus.
Let me give you one more example – what if you were having money troubles and somebody who knows a lot about money told you how to handle money God’s way… that it would help you get out of debt and to lead a happier life…  Would you follow their instructions?
Or like driving to Tusckaloocha:  If I googled directions and printed them out for you, would you follow them?  If we punched it into your Garmin, would you turn when it tells you to turn?  Or – would you see a road that looks pretty and say – I’ll bet I can still get there from here….I’ll just go up a ways and see where it takes me.  Since we don’t even know where Tusckaloocha is, wouldn’t that be pretty silly to try to find our own path to get there?
We, as Catholics, have been given the most direct route to Jesus – in the Church that He established.  But what does that benefit us if we don’t follow the directions?  Nature worshipers and even non-believers who try to find God through the dim light of natural reason might actually find Jesus before some of us Christians who have been given all the revealed truths about God …because we failed to look at the map… REAL wise men will turn to the scriptures for directions.

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