This week we celebrate the feast of Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth. This feast commemorates when the three wise men, called Magi, visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, and recognized his divinity.
Recently, I was reminded of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Journey of the Magi”. In the poem he describes the “hard time we had of it”, and the “cold coming” at the “worst time of the year”. Clearly, the journey of the Magi was not for the faint hearted. I wondered what made them do it, and what kept them going once the hardship became apparent.
First of all, I think they knew at the outset that they were involved with something bigger and more profound than themselves. Clearly, they knew about, and had read and understood the words of the prophets found in the Bible, who foretold of the Messiah’s coming. They heard and believed. These were wise men, indeed.
Secondly, though they travelled about 900 miles from Persia they kept their eyes on the Star. They first went to Jerusalem and then went on to Bethlehem. Matthew tells us that when they saw the place where the star stopped, they were “overwhelmed with great joy”(Matt. 2:10).
Third, they recognized the divinity of Jesus and worshiped Him. They knelt and presented the gifts they had brought with them.
Finally, having been warned not to return to King Harod they went back to their country by another route. As Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “No one who ever meets Christ with a good will returns the same way as he came.”
This story tells me a lot about what real faith looks like. Following Christ will never be easy. The Christian journey will always be difficult, hard work, full of doubt and false paths. But, there will also be guides and helpers along the way. Reading the Bible is the first step, and also reading the writing of the Church fathers and mothers both early and modern (i.e. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Teresa of Calcutta). These wise men and women have walked the walk and know our needs and struggles. The writing of the early scripture writers and the saints help us to see and recognize the great truths of the Christian faith.
Secondly, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. Like Peter on the stormy sea, when he kept his eye on Jesus he could walk on water; when he became distracted by the demands of the physical world he began to sink. Jesus told us that he would be with us until the end of the age. He will be our help in tough times and help us carry on.
Finally, a warning: we will be changed. The holy “Word” of God will change us. An encounter with Christ will change us. We will not be able to go back the same way.