The Most Reverend Glen John Provost, D.D.
Bishop of Lake Charles
The Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

“The star that they had seen at its rising preceded them.”  Matthew 2:9

                    From before the days of Odysseus, the journey has tenaciously held its place in man’s imagination.  Unlike a trip with a definite beginning and end within a reasonable period of time, a journey implies that there is a quest, that the voyage will continue until the object of the journey is found.  A journey implies that the voyager has all the time in the world and that the goal of the journey is worthwhile.  To journey means that for as long as it takes the journeyman will wander in pursuit of his goal.  Whether it is Columbus setting out to sea or Marco Polo following the Silk Road, the journey will involve sacrifice, adventure, and ultimately a valuable reward.

                    Thus, we have the Magi coming to Bethlehem. Little is known about them, and yet we do not need much detail.  Their story is like so many others told in the classical world of antiquity. For them the journey is the thing. The Magi are curious men of learning.  Even though they are not Jews, they have read the great prophets of the Chosen People. Perhaps they had read the prophecy:  “All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6).  Maybe the Magi had reflected on the psalm that reads, “May the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts; may all kings bow before him, all nations serve him” (Psalm 72:10-11).  Whatever it was, they knew that a light had been prophesied in Isaiah. “Your light has come,” Isaiah writes, “the glory of the Lord shines upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).  For this reason, the Magi explain their journey saying, “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Matthew 2:2). 

                    Their journey will lead them to the true king. Therefore, they have brought kingly gifts.  They bring three precious commodities in the ancient world.  A king will certainly need gold.  A king in the ancient world also led his people in prayer to God. Therefore, he will need frankincense, that burns and sends its smoke heavenward.  Finally, the most curious gift of the three, myrrh will perfume the presence of the king to distinguish how special he is. Implied also, however, is the king’s death, because myrrh as a fragrance was used in preparing a body for burial. The gifts are signs of what the kind will do.  He will reign, he will offer prayerful sacrifice, and he will die.

                    The Magi vanish from the Gospel as quickly as the dream that warns them not to return to Herod.  What have the Magi learned?  T. S. Eliot, reflecting on this point in his poem on the Magi, wrote that the Magi leave something of themselves behind. The gifts they brought were merely symbolic.  What changed and what they learned was linked to the sacrifice they made in the journey.

                    The Christian life is a journey.  On this Epiphany we are all Magi?  We have come to the stable of Bethlehem. What gifts have we brought? Perhaps we have brought nothing but ourselves, our sins, our weaknesses.  What more can God expect from us or from the Magi? What good are gold, frankincense, and myrrh, when we have not given of ourselves?

                    In our indulgent world, in our Christmas excess, we can forget the journey.  One older lady told me that when she was a young girl for Christmas she received an apple.  I contrast that with those commercials I saw over the holidays where a husband places the keys of a luxury car in the mouth of his dog to deliver to his wife on Christmas morning.  My, how things have changed?  Try as it may, our secular world has tried to render Jesus Christ irrelevant and it has failed.

                    The Magi continue to come.  The gift is not the thing.  The journey is.  If we have learned nothing from our journey to Bethlehem, then we have profited nothing.  The journey should have taught us what is truly important about life and love. Like the Magi we should have prostrated ourselves and did Him homage.  We should have opened our treasures and given Him ourselves, the only gift we have to offer.  Then, we would have had a dream not to return to Herod, the Herod that can destroy us, the Herod of this world. 
                   The words of the prophet Isaiah written some 400 years before Christ would then be fulfilled in us:

                    “Then you shall be radiant at what you see,

                             your heart shall throb and overflow,

                    for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,

                             the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.”

                                       Isaiah 60:5