When I was a child, I watched carefully as my mom decorated our Christmas Tree. When she arranged the miniature village beneath the tree, Mom placed the statues of the Magi as far from the crèche as possible. My mom did this to emulate the first Magi’s journey two millennia ago. Every day after Christmas, these tiny statues of Melchior, Gasper and Balthazar inched a bit farther across the cotton-covered landscape beneath the tree.
I tried to be the first out of bed on those mornings after Christmas. If I succeeded, I begged for the chance to move the plaster figures a few tiny steps closer to Jesus’ birthplace. My mom guided whichever of us won this privilege by carefully calibrating each day’s distance so the Magi would reach the stable on January 6. On this day, which we called “Little Christmas”, we celebrated Jesus’ birth once again with Mary’s and Joseph’s distinguished guests. Though as children we failed to fully understand the importance of this encounter, to this day, my sisters and I have difficulty taking down our Christmas Trees before the Feast of the Epiphany. Something deep within us insists that the work of Christmas is not finished until Jesus and the Magi meet. Indeed, the work of Christmas culminates with the Epiphany –the revelation of God With Us to all the world.
You know, every Christmas Season evokes deep feelings from within us. The Promise of Christmas intensifies our joy as we celebrate its fulfillment in God’s presence among us. The Promise of Christmas also intensifies our sorrow as we struggle to align our faith in God’s presence with the reality of our suffering. This Christmas Season offered no exception. Though I am most grateful to be blessed with a sense of peace deep within which sustains me along the way, the events that closed Year 2012 tested that peace.
Our neighbors on the east coast continued to suffer in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Unrest overseas kept far too many of our husbands and wives and sons and daughters in harm’s way. Some of us still mourned loved ones lost, while others sat with those they love as they prepared for their final journeys home to heaven. Unfortunately, our external issues often paled in the shadow of the internal struggles which threatened us to the core. Then, when it seemed our grief reached its limit, unthinkable evil etched a once-ordinary day into our memories. The pain of those who lost a child, a sister, a brother or a parent on December 14, 2012 will remain with them for as long as they remember. Still, in spite of the anguish that has burdened us every step of the way, the Magi who searched relentlessly until they found Jesus beckon us to join them in rejoicing today.
Before I allow myself to question the Magi’s joy, I recall the catechism and scripture lessons which assure me that life was no easier for them than it is for us today. Though they were privileged to meet Jesus and his parents face-to-face, it took a great leap of faith on their parts beforehand to find their way to the Holy Family. These wise men were likely astronomers because it was their knowledge of the night sky that alerted them to the new star. The Magi were wise in other things as well because they surmised that this newly discovered star must certainly announce the long-awaited Judean King. So it happened that they traveled perhaps a few months or for more than a year to pay homage to this long-awaited child. The Magi risked everything because they believed that meeting Jesus was worth every ounce of their effort. Though uncertain of the reception they would receive, the Magi stopped at Herod’s palace to inquire further about this king. In the end, they must have been deeply effected by their encounter with Jesus because, as they prepared to journey home, they listened to an angel’s warning to avoid Herod’s palace on their way. In their openness to Jesus, the Magi found their hearts opened to a new way of looking at these lives of ours. Wise men that they were, they went on to share what they learned with everyone whom they met along the way.
Sometimes, life’s struggles tempt me to change places with the Magi under my Christmas Tree. Life would be so much easier if God simply picked me up and moved me a few inches past my troubles each day. Yet, the truth is that if God lifted me over those troubles my life would be much poorer as well. You see, rather than picking me up and carrying me past my woes, God walks through each and every trial with me. As I plod along, God’s presence assures me that I am not alone. I may not see God face-to-face as the Magi did, but I certainly meet God heart-to-heart.
On this Feast of the Epiphany, as our world writhes with pain, the Magi beckon us back to the joy to be found in God With Us. Like the Magi, we must find this joy within ourselves and within our circumstances and then share it with those we meet along the way.
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved