Searchers and Pilgrims

01-05-2020Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

On this great feast day and Sunday we gather to celebrate the true love and mercy of our God. We have just celebrated a season and time of gift giving to family and friends. Today in contrast we are given a great gift from our God. This Feast of Little Christmas, often called the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, is a time when we are gifted. Much like the three kings we must be open to going and getting the gift, even if it causes inconvenience or effort and work.

Indeed does not Isaiah tell us how great is the gift in the symbolism of Jerusalem and the return of the Jews from Exile in Babylon. Jerusalem is luminescent with great and splendid light. Jerusalem is irresistibly drawing the people home even if they are very far off in a distant land. Everyone wants to come, from mothers to king; it does not matter your station or health.

The distant places which Isaiah names in our first passage are the various places to which Ismael’s and Esau’s progeny had migrated long ago. These fancy names create a mysterious and exotic environment for us today as these very rich and royal people came with gifts of gold and frankincense.

Our reading from Paul moves forward dramatically by Paul’s understanding that God’s salvation in Jesus was available to Jews and Gentiles alike. Indeed, in a sense he believes those who came to the new Jerusalem — the Church — came from the ends of the earth. We learn that the heart of God’s dealing with Israel was that salvation is meant for the whole world, Jew or foreigner. This truth was embedded in the Scriptures and made manifest in Jesus. Hear how Paul tells the Ephesians that in Christ Jesus Jews and Gentiles together share the same body, possess the same inheritance, receive the same promise, and share in the good news.

In Matthew we find the Old (Hebrew) Testament and the Gospel clearly connected in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew’s first two chapters plainly are filled with allusions to the Jewish Scriptures. We read the genealogy, we read that he is to be born of a virgin and we read “he is God with us.” The story of the Magi, the Three Kings, focuses on the prophecy from the Old Testament prophet Micah, which identifies a great king from Bethlehem.

The Magi, those great seekers, are vibrant symbols of all those who come to faith in Christ Jesus. In West Asia, often called the Near East, the star was frequently a sign of divinity. Indeed was it not a special star seen by the Magi that set them on their journey. The Greek word epiphaneia means in particular the appearance of a god or a divine intervention. The word can also apply to kings. Thus we understand why the Magi wanted to find out about this new god or king. As searchers and pilgrims, they began their difficult journey bearing rich gifts, and consequently they were in turn richly rewarded.

Pilgrims set out in search of what is missing. They do not necessarily wander the earth, but they must search even if it is where they are. They must follow the light and, like the Magi, seek help and advice. Herod is a contrasting person. He stayed where he was and he was not searching for anything more in life. He only wanted to keep what he had all to himself.

Much like the Magi, we must always be searching for a better way of life in Christ. If we bring the gifts of who we are to him, then we will receive even greater gifts from him. We will then, like the Magi, take a different route. Indeed it will be a better route in life.