“This is the secret of life: the self lives only by dying, finds its identity (and its happiness) only by self-forgetfulness, self-giving, self-sacrifice, and agape love.” - Peter Kreeft: (Philosophy Professor at Boston College and author of “Jesus-Shock”)
Gospel Text: (MT 2:1-12)
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.
I have always liked the short story by Henry van Dyke call The Other Wise Man. It was made into a movie starring Martin Sheen called The Fourth Wise Man. The premise of the story is that there were not three wise men, magi, from the east but four, the fourth one's name was Artaban. Now Artaban was late to the meeting place from which the magi were to start their journey of following the star so he was always playing catch-up to the other three. He never catches up to them and so he does not meet the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. By the time he gets there the others are gone and so is the Holy Family.
Artaban is determined to meet the Christ so from Bethlehem he sets out on a journey to catch up, to meet the Christ. He wants to give him some rare stones, jewels, that he has brought along however Artaban is late for every opportunity to meet Jesus because he is always stopping to help someone in need. He finally ends his journey after many, many years in Jerusalem. He is old and tired and he has given all his precious stones away to help others. He is dejected because he now has nothing to give Jesus if he meets him.
Artaban finally does meet Jesus as Jesus is carrying his Cross to Calvary. Jesus tells Artaban that he is thankful for his many gifts. Artaban doesn't understand because he thinks he has no gift to give. Jesus tells Artaban that his life has been his gift. Every time he stopped to help someone it was a gift and Jesus is very pleased with the gift, in fact it is the best gift!
I always think of this story on the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, because I think Artaban represents all of us. At birth we all begin a journey to meet the Lord, it is called life. We have many opportunities to encounter Jesus. Sometimes we miss him and sometimes we don't. Our gift is our life and how we live it. Each time we help others we add to our gift, each time we help others encounter Jesus we add to our gift, each time we live life to the best of our ability we add to our gift!
We find ourselves in the midst of a world that often does not recognize Christ and does not give the gifts we have been entrusted with. We live in a world that often does not see the needs of others around us. We live in a world that often disrespects the gift of life. We live in a world that often fails to see people in need because we have our backs turned and we think only of ourselves!
The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that Christ's presence and message is universal, Jesus came for all. Again let me repeat that – Jesus came for all of us! Our challenge is to bring that message to the world for Jesus by not turning our backs, by not holding on to our gifts but by sharing our gifts with whomever we meet. During this Holy Year of Mercy let us continue our journey to find the Christ, let us live our lives, let us give our gifts, let us share God with others.