Published on 02 Jan 2020

Go and find out all about the child. And when you have found him let me know so that I too may go and do him homage [1].  Herod has no intention of doing any homage.  He wants information so that he can eliminate what he perceives to be a threat.  We too would be glad to find out all about the child.  We seek knowledge of Christ.  Unlike Herod, we are not, most of us, seeking to destroy the one about whom we would like to know more.  However, like Herod, our seeking understanding of Jesus can be separate from our capacity to fall on our knees and do homage [2].  We are pleased that knowledge of God is being gathered.  Nevertheless we reserve the right to make our own judgement about what is discovered or revealed.   The magi were filled with delight [3] but our reaction to epiphanies can be more reserved. Let God made human reveal himself if he so wills: but we decide, like some ancient despot, within our territory, how the revelation is to be received.  We are the captains of our soul. We reflect carefully before any doing of homage.  You will grow radiant, your heart throbbing and full [4].  Such joy is promised to us if we can find the Lord and truly worship him.  In the meantime, there is, for many, still some ground to cover.

The homage of the wise men is very complete.  More submissive to the infant king even than vassals, they worship him. They fall to their knees and adored him. Before him all kings shall fall prostrate [5].  Our epiphany submission to Christ may be less thorough-going.  We might have something in common with one of the sons of Herod who when he listened to John the Baptist he was greatly puzzled yet he liked to listen to him [6].  Fierce rejection of what God is showing us can be preceded by a dilettante curiosity about the teaching. The mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any…in past generations [7]. There is a discovery of something new, at least to us, and interesting. The nations come to your light [8].  Then comes a labour of acceptance. There is the grace he meant for you [9].  This is the abundant divine help which accompanies our going into the house where Jesus is with his mother Mary [10] and offering him worship.

The grace of God driving us forward and going ahead of us is like a star illuminating our search.  Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears [11]. We saw his star as it rose and have come to him homage [12].  The magi were filled with delight [13]. Our own worship of the One who is revealed to us can, as it turns out, be just as joyful.  Our hesitations are part of the journey but so is the delight of discovery. Christ’s epiphany comes not a moment too soon [14].  The new dispensation of grace is such that curiosity and inquiry become adoration at the right time in our life.  Personal as is such a revelation it nevertheless includes finding out that Jesus welcomes everyone with the same love.  The journeys are diverse but the one destination awaits all who can find the strength to reach it. We all share the same inheritance…are parts the same body…and have received the same promise [15].  Our awareness of God’s particular invitation to us, our grace-filled vocation, is accompanied by a grateful appreciation that creator and saviour has made everyone for happiness with him.

We go in to adore Christ, to open our treasures [16] and to give of ourselves. The gold, frankincense and myrrh [17] are emblems of all that is most important to us.  The gold is our substance.  It is that from which we live and it gleams with beauty. The frankincense is our highest aspiration, a prayer for light and grace. This hope fills our house with a sweet smell. The myrrh anoints.  It conjures a vision of life, death and new life which explains not only Jesus to us but ourselves to ourselves. To worship joyfully God made human and revealed to us is better than hesitation and doubt. The magi found the one for whom they were looking.  Their wisdom is in the manner of their searching and in their humility before what was revealed to them.  God has become man for everyone and we are all welcomed in to where the mystery reveals itself.

They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod [18].  The magi come to understand that the tyrant’s questions are not innocent. They set off down another road. The wise men return to their country by a different way [19]. They are, in fact, completely changed by what they have seen.  We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here [20].  Everything is altered by an epiphany of the Lord. Might we pursue the magi down the path they are following?  Herod-like, we could do so destructively. Or we could imitate the wise men in their wisdom and in their joy. We cannot not return.  Our responsibilities draw us back.  Yet surely we return to our ordinary life changed? The different way of the magi not only avoided Herod but also brought them home transformed.   The light of grace has shone for all of us at the place we have been seeking and at the right time. The knowledge we have glimpsed we are now assimilating. What has delighted us is now changing us.

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]  Matthew 2.8

[2]  Matthew 2.11

[3]  Matthew 2.10

[4]  Isaiah 60.5

[5]  Psalm (72) 71.11

[6]  Mark 6.20

[7]  Ephesians 3.5

[8]  Isaiah 60.3

[9]  Ephesians 3.2

[10] Matthew 2.11

[11] Isaiah 60.1

[12] Matthew 2.2

[13] Matthew 2.10

[14] T. S. Eliot 1888-1965 ‘The Journey of the Magi’ 1927, line 30

[15] Ephesians 3.6

[16] Matthew 2.11

[17] Matthew 2.11

[18] Matthew 2.12

[19] Matthew 2.12

[20] Eliot, ‘The Journey of the Magi’ lines 40-41