In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Have you ever asked: Why this story of three strangers we know very little about, traveling to honor the newborn child Jesus? Were they believers, or searching for something to believe in? In the second reading, St. Paul speaks of his epiphany “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus . . .” (Eph 3: 2-3a, 5-6). The Epiphany, it would seem, is not just the revelation of Christ to believers, but to all.
This summer I had an “aha” moment with an atheist friend. He is perhaps one of the most thoughtful, open and kind people I know. And, unlike some Christians these days, he’ll speak charitably about matters of faith with anyone willing to engage him. He’s a philosopher, so I always presumed his atheism was primarily grounded in belief in the primacy of reason, until he said something which blew me away. He shared that he was aware that many believers in God experienced what we Christians would describe as the desire for God “written in the human heart.” “I’ve never experienced that,” he said. “If there is a God, that seems terribly unfair and perhaps even cruel.” It hadn’t occurred to me that his atheism might also stem from a sense that as a human being he’d been robbed of something holy.
Did the magi have a similar sense that drew them to Jesus? Did they walk away believers in Christ? There are many fellow travelers in this world who resemble us Christians in many substantial ways, but for whom belief in God does not come easily and may seem impossible. Wasn’t the message of Christ to St. Paul that these brothers and sisters of ours are also “members of the same body?” If so, how might we do them homage, instead of being stymied by their disbelief? Though it may not seem so to him, I believe that my friend’s heartfelt objection to the absence of some innate connection to God in his life was in and of itself something holy, worthy of homage.
If you are called Love I adore only you, Lord. If you are called Goodness I adore only you. If you are called Pardon I adore only you, Lord. If you are called Passion, I adore only you. My prayer rises to you who are so far from me now, To you who are so far . . .
—Excerpt from “Love from Afar,” by Amin Maalouf, as quoted in The Unmoored God: Believing in a Time of Dislocation, by Paul G. Crowley, SJ)Please share the Good Word with your friends!