I want to give you the punchline, so to speak. It might be easy to get caught up in the nice little story about the Three Wise men. But if you pay attention to all of the readings – especially THAT story of the wise men, you’ll see a common theme. God wants everyone in the world to know and adore Him. Everyone.
He reveals himself to us in Creation. He gives us Reason that we can come to knowledge of Him. And He reveals himself so us in Scripture. He’s given us everything we need to find Him.
But pay attention to who actually finds Jesus – and who doesn’t. It should surprise us.
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 directions’.
Ok – I made that up 😊 But I want you to imagine, that YOU are at that Oasis when this caravan pulls in and asks YOU this question: “How do we find Jesus?” They’re asking YOU! Would you have an answer? Honestly, I’m not sure I could give an answer very quickly. But SHOULDN’T we know the answer? Most of us have been Christian all our life – we’ve got the Bible – and the Church – WE should know Jesus better than anybody else. So – how DO we find Jesus?
Let’s start with an easier question: say I wanted to drive to Tuscaloosa…does anybody here know how to get there? How could I find out? I can google it, pull up MapQuest, Or put it into my GPS navigational doohickey…three different ways to find Tuscaloosa. That’s not too hard, - but - what if I need directions on how to find Jesus? – how could I find out? 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 directions to find him?
We believe that Jesus started ONE 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. Why would Jesus start a Church, anyway? To help people find him. The Church IS the GPS navigational doohickey for finding Jesus.
We might think with all of that going for us, we must be God’s favorite – like OUR CHURCH has a corner on the market for getting to Jesus – but we’d be wrong! In fact, that’s the point of today’s readings. The people who SHOULD have found Jesus DIDN’T find him.
You see, there were two important groups of people who DID come to see Jesus when he was born: the shepherds and the magi. Today’s Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the fact that these pagan wise men came to know Jesus. That should shake us up! These guys weren’t Catholic, they weren’t Christian, heck, they weren’t even Jewish. They tried to find God by reading the signs in the stars. According to most of our standards today, we might call them kooks – 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? 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 actually a third group who came to know that Jesus was born.
The shepherds came to know through a vision of angels. The magi knew through through creation: by reading the stars. And King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures – three different ways of arriving at the same truth. Of course, this doesn’t mean that ANY path to 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 consult the scriptures to direct them to Bethlehem. That’s an important point: The Magi needed more than the natural light of the star… they still needed the SUPERNATURAL light of scripture to finally find Jesus.
Anybody listening to the Catechism in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz? This week we HEARD this very lesson – the catechism tells us (somewhere around paragraph 35-40) that it’s possible for mankind to find God through reason and witnessing Creation – it’s possible – but very hard. Instead, we need to rely on divine revelation – which is exactly what we saw with the story of the wise men. Their wisdom – their reason and watching natural signs in creation only took them so far. In the end, they had to go to Jerusalem to get directions from the Torah – the Jewish scriptures – God’s divine revelation.
But the crucial question in the story remains: Who actually FOUND Jesus? Notice that Herod and his scribes had the scriptures, but they failed to find Jesus. But the magi, who followed the natural light of the stars WERE able to find him. Why? Because the Jewish scribes, even though they possessed the shining truth of revealed scriptures,…they 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 DID follow its guidance. See – It’s not the possession of the truth that matters, it is whether we’ll follow where the light of that truth leads us. 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 – In other words, 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.
So, let’s ask another question about Tuscaloosa… If I googled directions and printed them out for you, would you follow them? Or – as you’re driving down the road would you see a side-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 you don’t even know where Tuscaloosa is, that would be pretty silly to try to find your own path to get there.
We 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 be finding Jesus before some of us Christians who have been given all the revealed truths about God …if we fail to look at the map. That’s the point of today’s readings.
Last point really quick: all of our readings indicate that All the nations on earth will adore the Lord. Somehow, God plans to shine his light to all the corners of the world so that ALL people will be drawn toward him. It’s like God planned to put a star in the sky to guide all of the pagans to find Jesus. What is that star? It’s the Church. It’s you and me. WE are the stars guiding everyone around us to find Jesus. So the question each of us has to ask ourselves: Am I walking in the Light? Does my life reflect the love of God to those around me? If someone follows ME, will I be leading them TOWARD Jesus, or AWAY?
Be a star. Shine so brightly that when people look at you, all they see is Jesus.