In many ways, any feast day or solemnity is a “Feast of the New Evangelization.” But in a special way, the Epiphany – the coming of the Magi from the East – encapsulates the great messages of evangelization. The kerygma, the great story of Jesus, plays the central role as it always does (and should), but so many smaller themes help make this day what it is.
Not much is known about those three wise men who saw the star and came to Bethlehem from the East. Tradition holds that they were men of learning, men of science – astrologers who spent their lives looking for meaning in the stars. Most paintings and statues depict them as men of three different statures, races, and cultures. Was this actually the case? Who knows. But their very presence around the manger reflects the same truth as today’s psalm at Mass: Every nation on earth will adore the Lord! (Psalm 72) Christ did not come just for Israel but for all; not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles; men and women of every race.
“In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.” -St. Leo the Great
The fact that Christ came to save all is probably not new to us. I’ve heard it emphasized in pretty much every Epiphany homily I can remember. But this year, from 4 separate priests, I heard a new (to me) idea emphasized: the journey of the Magi. We focus on the Magi adoring the Lord and presenting their gifts to Jesus, but how often do we hear about the actual journey of the wise men to that stable in Bethlehem? It is this aspect of the story that makes it so relevant for us as evangelists.
First, the Magi were men of science and math and learning; they were men whose lives were steeped in theories and ideas. I wish I had a nickel for every time I encounter someone who believes Jesus is just another abstract deity – more or less a perfect idea – who floats above us; that the Father is a neat idea who zapped the universe into being and then stepped away. Ideas do not make things, persons make things. And when the Magi saw the star and followed it, arriving in Bethlehem, they did not find another equation or cosmic mystery, they found a baby; a little person; a King.
St. Leo the Great calls today the “the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles.” All of this came to be fulfilled, he said, “from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognize and adore the King.” When we live our lives in the ways that Christ calls us to, according to our vocation, the witness we give is efficacious to those around us whether we know it or not. Everybody, Christian or not, can recognize that there is something joyful and fundamentally different about you. Whether it makes them happy or something else is a different matter; the point is that it changes them. And, for many seekers, it is our witness as faithful evanglizers that calls them “out of their distant country” and leads them to “recognize and adore the King.”
What do they do after they journey to Jesus and have their encounter with him? “They departed for their country by another way.” (Mt 2:12) So the Magi are called out of their distant country to come encounter Jesus and then are called to go back to their lives, changed forever. The first change is their route: they go back by another way. The personal encounter and relationship with Christ demands that we be different, that we live our lives differently for God (remember, “sanctus”, “holy”, means “set apart”).
In so many places and in so many ways, we meet the Magi everyday. People who do not know Jesus, but are open to him because they are seeking the Truth; sometimes they’re looking in ideas and equations, sometimes they’re looking in liquor stores or porn sites, sometimes they’re looking in job after job, relationship after relationship, city after city; but, they’re looking. We’re all guided by the same star. The Magi were obedient to the star and followed it, that small glimmer in the darkness that led them, ultimately, to Jesus: the personal and relational God-man and King.
“The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.” -St. Leo the Great
The natural conclusion, according to our friend St. Leo: “…you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another.” In other words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)
May the faith of the Magi, not just in the stable but also on their way, inspire us to be faithful disciples and zealous evangelists so as to be faithful servants “of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.”
Happy Feast Day, New Evangelizers!