We are nearing the end of the celebrational season wherein we are invited to dinners and parties. Upon being invited we usually respond about our desire to bring something, “What shall I bring?” Funny how we don’t want to go empty-handed when all we are asked to bring is ourselves. I wonder if we do not think bringing ourselves is enough. A bottle of wine, a dessert, fresh bread might make our arrival and presence more pleasing?
This week as we move from His birth to His going public with His baptism, we can prepare for the weekend’s liturgy by preparing to bring nothing except ourselves to that celebration. The kings or Magi brought expensive gifts from their abundance. We present our human poverty and truth to receive the manger-bound, Divine-Surprise and exaltation. If possible, try to not ask what you should bring if you are invited to someone’s home for dinner. Ultimately, we are learning that it is more gracious to receive than cover up our embarrassing poverty.
Our First Reading for this feast is a poem which celebrates the return to prominence of the city of Jerusalem. It is a prophetic presentation to those in exile that their holy city, which has been dirtied, disgraced and publicly polluted by foreigners and disbelievers will be brought back to glory by the presence again of God.
The poem predicts that the holiness of the city will return as will her sons and daughters. Others will come to present gifts from the sea-nations which will come by ship as well as from the east who will cross the deserts. All this will come to pass, because the “light” and “glory” of God will shine upon the city and people who are now in darkness. It is a hope-poem meant to keep up the spirits of those who long to go back home from their captivity in Babylon.
The Gospel is complicated, mystical, political and familiar. I do not wish to explain the various aspects of all of these in some academic or New Testament 101-way. Matthew is saying something very important about the universal implication of a very intimate reality. Jesus is born for more than Mary and Joseph. He is born to bring light and life to more than Judea and all of Israel. What we are praying with, confronted with, is that God, in fact, is showing off.
We consider mental health by the consistency of gestures. A person is healthy of mind and emotions when that which is experienced inside is reflected accurately outside in some gesture. Obviously there are occasional unusual behaviors, but generally gestures match emotions and attitudes.
Is God healthy? It is a strange Gospel to have three wisdom-figures whose whole spirituality is based on interpreting celestial beings, following a single unknown star across the desert and eventually humble themselves before an unknown baby in an unknown town. There is perhaps even more Divine-daftness. The “unknowable” God speaks the infinite Word in “baby-talk”, and we grow to understand and interpret this foreign language made native. God had come close before, but never dropping to such depths as to become One of us. God had never crossed the threshold, but did the inviting from just beyond, over there.
These Magi, who gain their wisdom from conversing with “star-beings” trust their message given in a dream and return, not merely geographically, but wisdom-wise, by an “other way”. This “other way” is what Epiphany means. God’s sanity, mental-health, is manifested or “shown-off” by fooling our star-struck wisdom or way of figuring things out. The “new way” is walking across deserts by the Light of a Star. We are dazzled by stars, but what is even more dazzling is the response we make by trusting that this Light is leading us to an unknown good.
I was graced deeply one evening lately to sit in on a group of our Ckreighton students who were reflecting on their experiences, internal and external, during their weeks spent in rural El Salvador. They remembered faces and meals and cold showers and with some tears went back in memory to the conditions of poverty and yet the strong sense of family and faith there. One senior woman began reflecting about her having attended the first meeting of the students who are now beginning to prepare to go to El Salvador next summer. She mused at all they were sharing about why they were going and what they hoped to receive and achieve. (This is an academically-accredited course) She related that they are going to get so much more than what they’re asking for. I asked her just how did she come to receive so much more.
She, like the Magi, went with a certain, Jesuit-university wisdom. She returned by a different “way”. She shared that she was “humbled” not humiliated. She came to see that faith was more than knowing or seeing or understanding. She, and the group agreed heartily, that simplicity is a wealth and sharing is having, and going without allows one to go within. To some, this is not good mental health. The Magi were touched by the simplicity and withoutness of the Divine-confusion. They humbled themselves in a new experience of recognizing without clearly encompassing.
This group of students have been hanging onto the new “way” by talking and supporting each other as they journey across their deserts. It is not easy to stay influenced by such a craziness. I muse at how the Magi may have related what they had witnessed to the wisdom cultures to which they returned. We all go to the stable, to be humbled by God’s consistent fooling and humbling us by the calls to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary and the most unusual, His and our Resurrection. Those who can not be humbled wait in the dark for more, bigger, shinier, and closer calls of stars. God’s crazy way seems to dazzle by dim so as to be consistently faithful.
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore You.” Ps. 72
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