FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
Search Day and Night - Happily Offer One's All
First Reading: (Is 6: 1-6): All humankind will behold the glory of the Lord
Second Reading: (Eph 3: 2-3, 5-6): All people share in God's graces
Gospel: (Mt 2: 1-12): The wise men came to adore
-“The Master said, 'Those who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and those who love it are not equal to those who delight in it”(1)
-“Investigate circumstances about heaven and man, understand past and present changes, then succeed in establishing a school of thought’ (2)
-“Long as the way is I will continue to search above and below.”(3)
-“The way is never far from humankind.”(4)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.’….When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mt 2: 1-2, 10-11)
Among the gifts the three wise men brought, the shiny, expensive gift of gold was a symbol of nobility, indicating they believed that Jesus was King. The fragrance of the smoke released from the burning frankincense symbolized the prayer of humankind ascending to God. It showed that the wise men acknowledged that Jesus was true God. Myrrh was used to anoint the body of a deceased person and prevent the body from decay. It represented the wise men's belief that Jesus was also truly human, like us subject to life and death, sickness and aging.
Besides these three kinds of gifts, Scripture also describes the actions of the wise men: they looked, they were overjoyed, they entered, they worshipped, they offered, etc. This was their meeting with Jesus and the process of their conversion.
'They looked' - this refers to their first meeting and recognition; 'overjoyed' indicates that this first contact and meeting became a source of belief and joy - it showed how highly they treasured the event; 'they entered'- they proceeded from joy to action, they took one more step, their joy was turned into action, their faith became an integral part of their lives and grew deeper. They 'worshipped'- action and life rose to the higher level of faith and conversion, so that they could lay their whole beings and lives before God in total submission; 'they offered'- this symbolized that after people have submitted themselves and acknowledged that all that they are and have belong to God, they henceforth will sacrifice themselves and their whole lives to God.
In this process of 'looking, being overjoyed, entering, worshipping, offering, being overjoyed is a very important key. Confucius said, “Those who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and those who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.”(1)
To be in contact with someone, to know and acknowledge, all these are important, but not so important as to treasure, to appreciate and love; and to treasure and love cannot be equated with being overjoyed. 'What is good, you are happy about'- this means to be joyful about an event or deed. Some people know they should study and that studying is beneficial, but they are not joyful about studying. Some people know they should help others and believe that in helping others they are helping Jesus, but in carrying out the virtue of love they do not necessarily feel happy. Such people will not persevere in doing good because they are not happy.
We may acknowledge mentally that faith is good, correct and necessary, but even more than that, we must be joyful about our faith and be proud of it.
Intellectually, Christians 'believe' that the Gospel is good news. But if we look carefully at the faces of some of the Christians we meet in church every Sunday we may not necessarily recognize that they have received the good news or that they are going to a joyful banquet. As to those who do not go to church, even less can we judge if they are happy in their faith.
The wise men were what the Jews of that time called 'foreigners' (Gentiles). They were not part of God's 'Chosen People,' nor did they have the same kind of faith the Jewish people had. They may have been astrologers or among those people who in their hearts search for some sort of belief and depth to life. What was special about them was that they were very alert to everything that went on around them; any natural phenomenon was part of their concern.
They were concerned about the environment and they wanted to find the truth; perhaps they daily researched and investigated astronomy, geography, and the like. They did what Si Ma Qian talked about: “Investigate circumstances about heaven and man, understand past and present changes, succeed in establishing a school of thought.”(2) Their aim was to discover the mysteries of life. They were the kind of person Qu Yuan wrote about: “Long as the way is, I will keep searching above and below.(3)
“The way is never far from humankind.”(4) For those who wish to discover the Way to life, the 'Way' is only a short distance away. They need not go far for God is right beside those who search for him. In the end they 'see' the star!
And after the Wise Men saw, what then? Perhaps thousands of people saw the star, but only a few were overjoyed and followed it. There may not have been three as tradition says, but certainly there were not many of them.
From recognizing to action, from faith to life, is an important and necessary process. For this we need strong motivation, determination and perseverance. Ultimately the source of such motivation and determination is God, but the proximate cause can be due to 'human' factors, such as a good education, encouragement from friends, religious inspiration, others' good example, wholesome books that disseminate correct knowledge, mutual support from a faith community, and so on.
The highest point of course is the offering of the whole person, a long-term offering that is happy and joyous, offering all that we have and all that we are.