Among Scriptural scholars, controversy surrounds the historicity of the Magi.
Magi were wise men/ astrologers/ diviners/ Zoroastrians/ members of a priestly caste in Persia/ astronomers/ scholars etc. who dwelled in areas east of Palestine – Iraq, Iran. The area where writing was invented.
We do not need to go into whether they’re coming to Bethlehem seeking ‘the new born king of the Jews’ actually happened as described or not, no more than we need to go into the name of the hill from which Jesus spoke the Beatitudes or if he actually spoke from a hill.
The Bible is not about seeking out historical facts or locations but about seeking out the message intended.
The first message the visit of the Mage conveys is that Jesus of Nazareth; the Redeemer, the Saviour, was Redeemer and Saviour not just for the Israelites but for all peoples, nations and ethnic groups.
They symbolise us – all peoples from all backgrounds.
Where do they find this newborn ‘King of the Jews?’
Naturally they went first to the king’s palace. King Herod was unhappy with the news they brought. Rivals to his crown were unwelcome.
Eventually they found him in a cattle pen, lying on an armful of straw, being cared for by his parents – a humble working man and his wife.
You can imagine that after travelling this long journey in high expectation their surprise was great.
Why they didn’t turn around and depart immediately in great disappointment is beyond my understanding. Obviously they had ‘been had.’ Imagine the amusement among their peers when they arrived back home. Without doubt the bad news would have preceded them.
But they didn’t.
We are told ‘they prostrated themselves and did him homage.’
What wisdom was required to act in this way !
What humility was required to act in this way !
The second message from today’s Gospel is that God’s ways are not our ways – the ways of the world. Kings are born in palaces not in stables.
From the first moment of his birth God chose the life of the poor, the oppresses, the needy. He ended his life in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the needy. There is certainly a message here for me, a message that I tend to ignore.
A certain medical Consultant lecturing on the `Stages of Ageing’ presented a class
in medical school with a case study of a patient under his care.
“The patient neither speaks nor comprehends the spoken word. Sometimes she
mumbles and babbles incoherently for long periods.
She is disoriented about person, place, and time. She does, however, respond to her
name… I have looked after her for the past six months, but she still shows complete
disregard for her physical appearance and makes no effort towards her own care.
She must be fed, bathed, and clothed by others.
Because she has no teeth, her food must be liquid. Her shirt is usually soiled from
almost incessant dribbling and she does not walk.
Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she wakes in the middle of the night and her
screaming wakes up everybody else. Most of the time she is friendly and happy, but
several times a day she gets quite agitated without any apparent cause. Then she
wails until someone comes to comfort her.”
After presenting the class with this challenging case. He then asked his students if
any of them would volunteer to take care of this person. No one volunteered. Then
he said, “I’m surprised that none of you has offered to help, because actually she is
my favourite patient. I get immense pleasure from taking care of her and am
learning so much from her. She has taught me a depth of gratitude I never knew
before. She has taught me the meaning of unwavering trust. And she has taught me
the power of unconditional love.” Then he said, “look here is her picture” and he
pulled out the picture and passed it around. It was the photo of his six-month-old
This is very much our problem in our relationships with each other. We constantly
fail to recognise people for what they are.
Christmas has one big message for us. Emmanuel; God is with us.
Emmanuel means that this little baby in Bethlehem who has to be washed and
cleaned and fed. Who screams and kicks and wriggles in the most aggravating way,
Emmanuel means that the wife or husband who ignores what I say & who has the
most annoying habits and mannerisms, is God.
Emmanuel means that the children who disobey me and drive me to distraction are
Emmanuel means that the parents who never seem to understand, are God.
Emmanuel means that the person sitting next to me now is God.
Emmanuel means that the little child creating the disturbance in the church is God.
As St John says; ’Those who say, I love God and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’
Today’s first reading is an oracle. That is a prophesy given by some prophet or person with special powers, usually given in ambiguous language.
Bethlehem was the home town of David who was king of Israel about 1,000 b.c. He was the most celebrated ruler of Israel and the long awaited Messiah was to be born of his lineage. So in today’s first reading the prophet Micah is speaking an oracle foretelling the coming of this Redeemer; this descendent of king David who will lead Israel to victory and glory.
In today’s second reading from Hebrews the author is telling us that the multiplicity of sacrifices of the Old Testament are now replaced by the one sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross.
Today’s Gospel reading describes Mary’s hurried journey to Elizabeth her relative. When the Angel Gabriel asked Mary if she agreed to be the mother of the Redeemer he/she also mentioned that her kinswoman Elizabeth was also pregnant in her old age. Now, Mary was in a quandary. She was pregnant and as yet unmarried, who would believe her story about the visit of the Angel Gabriel? Certainly not her parents or her boyfriend Joseph.
She knew Elizabeth was kind and understanding and would believe her story after what has happened to her in her old age. So now, having a good excuse to visit Elizabeth she set out hotfoot to see her. I believe that it was Elizabeth and her influential husband Zaharia the priest, who ironed things out with Mary’s parents and Joseph and arranged for a somewhat hurried wedding.
We have Elizabeth congratulating, blessing, Mary for believing and trusting the word of God brought to her by the Angel Gabriel. This in contrast to her husband Zaharia’s reaction of doubt when he was told by an angel that he would have a son in his old age.
The Message today is in the words of Elizabeth to Mary – ‘Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
This message brought to Mary by the Angel brought joy but also worry, embarrassment, problems and anxiety. She had to use her knowledge, ingenuity and common sense to solve these problems. She did not regret her decision or rail against the unfairness of her situation. She trusted in her God and got on with what had to be done.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Why all the rejoicing?
My health isn’t great. I am in pain. I am depressed and life itself is a burden. I am short of money. I lost my job. My family are troublesome. The weather is cold. I have doubts about the love and support of my marriage partner. My car is a wreck. My dog is sick. The Church is mired in controversy. The Conservatives are in power. etc etc. So what is there to rejoice about?
The answer is “The Lord is near.” Immanuel has been revealed to me.
When we say the Lord is near; when we say Immanuel, what does it mean?
There is much to be said about the Incarnation – salvation, forgiveness, resurrection, eternal life etc. But for me the most important thing about the Incarnation is that God has existentially demonstrated to me that just as God was intimately and personally present to and in Jesus of Nazareth throughout his life, death and burial, so to is God present to and in me throughout my life, from birth to death and burial.
So why can my life sometimes be so difficult?
Now that is a ‘good’ question!!
If you can figure out why the life of Jesus of Nazareth was sometimes so difficult, then you have your answer.
God was not only with and in Jesus of Nazareth but God was actually Jesus of Nazareth. Yet few can claim that their lives were fraught with danger, pain, disappointment and suffering as his was. Yet God was with him. Yet he was God.
One theologian I read said he thought that God was ( is ) so distressed by the pain and suffering we undergo in this life that He himself became a human being and suffered all these pains in solidarity with us as an apology. And not only that, but God by being with and in me actually undergoes in Himself personally these very same distresses and sufferings. Or like the good military officer who always leads his soldiers into action. Who only asks them to do what he himself is willing to do.
To me this is what Immanuel means. To me this is what Christmas means. God is with me.
If this is true. If I truly believe this then there is great reason for rejoicing.
So let us ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near.’
Following on the homily of two weeks ago regarding my attitude or relationship with my God; whether it be ‘Old Testament’ or ‘New Testament,’ I would like to discuss the matter further today.
How I understand God to be, is of paramount importance not only to me but also to God.
To me because it will mean that my spiritual life will be hidebound, fearful, subservient and mercenary or light, free and delightful. To God, because his beloved child will treat Him/Her merely as a source of endless handouts which have to be earned in some way and accounted for or as a beloved parent whose arms are ever open to hug and console no matter what.
One might say. If God is so good, so generous, so forgiving, so compassionate no matter what, why not just sit back and enjoy the ride? Why bother myself with things like gratitude, respect, and God forbid, love.
I might as well say, I know my parents love me and will leave their house and money to me so why bother visiting them, saying thank or, worse again, listening to their oft repeated stories?
It is really all about me and the sort of person I am or want to be – the one I want to live with for the rest of my life.
I must stop thinking of God as ‘other.’ As someone who dwells up there on high. As someone who must be called on.
I must stop thinking that I must ‘say’ my prayers. Must go to Mass etc.etc.
Think of God as you think of your marriage partner, children and grandchildren. They are constantly flitting into your thoughts and consciousness no matter where you are or what you are doing. They are, in some way, present to you always and everywhere.
All God wants is to be part of my family. To have the same standing in my life and in my thoughts as my family. To be treated with the same loyalty and love as I treat my family.
God is Immanuel. God is with me. God is part of me. If God asks me to do something why bridle at it. Do I not wait patiently in the supermarket car park for my marriage partner or worse again push the trolly around? Do I not stand around endlessly grinning as my children and grandchildren do silly things to amuse me?
So if my God asks, do something in ‘memory of me’, why put on a sour face?
So it is all about attitude. With the right attitude it is never a case of why or how much or how often or for how long. These questions should not even arise. It involves freedom, willingness, a looking for opportunities to please.
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
So is today not ‘that day.’