1] Joy and Adoration
Joy and adoration. The Gospel says that the Magi were “filled with delight” when they saw the star. The original actually says that the Magi “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” That kind of joy could only come from a great love for the one they were seeking and from a great hope that was about to be fulfilled. It was what the star promised that caused their joy. It was finding God.
And when they at last found the infant king of the Jews, we are told that they “fell to their knees” and did him homage. In fact, the original doesn’t mention knees, it says simply that they fell. We know from other parts of the Gospel that what is meant is that they fell prostrate, to the ground, like the guards who came to arrest Jesus when he said, “I am He.” Although they were Magi or, some say, Kings, they did not hesitate to fall before the infant Son of God.
But there’s always a spoiler. On the opposite side of joy and adoration, we have jealous rage and murderous elimination. The star filled Herod with fear and it led him to want to eliminate Christ with merciless ferocity, as the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem were soon to discover. Had he found the infant-king, Herod would not have fallen to the ground but dashed him to the ground. He had no thought for seeking or finding God and therefore no joy. He sought only himself and the frustration and sadness these bring.
But Herod’s goal was not to be, for Jesus had come to bring the joy of salvation to all nations. The first reading from Isaiah depicts the future kingdom of God when he describes in lovely poetic terms the procession of all nations to the heavenly Jerusalem. This is Christ’s hope for humanity; this is what makes his divine heart throb and fill with divine joy.
In every age, including our own, we still sadly witness the irrational fear and rage of Herod, of those who want Christ eliminated. They fear that he will take away their freedom or their dignity or their independence. Whereas the truth is that it is only Christ who can guarantee us these very things and to a degree beyond our wildest dreams. Instead of true joy, so many are deceived: they think that only what suits their own tastes and views is happiness. Instead of adoration of the living God, many adore mere things, or human ideas or even just their own feelings. To talk of Christ and of the joy that comes from adoring him offends their imagined self-sufficiency. It is certainly true that Christ disturbs our claim to have or be our own gods but only because these will only end in tears. Our task is not, of course, to judge anyone, but to love everyone. It is to witness quietly to Christ by letting others see how our own joy and adoration of him brings a fulfilment that nothing and no-one on earth can deliver.
Ask the Lord today to give you the grace to keep searching for him and to rejoice exceedingly with great joy as you do so. Ask him for the grace of adoration, of the capacity humbly and willingly to fall prostrate before him. We need to let go of the self-made man or woman which our current times want us to invent and, instead, surrender everything to the Lord. Losing ourselves in adoration of him, we will find the true self which only Christ can give us. Then we will know the exceedingly great joy of the Lord himself. Only this joy will draw the nations to God.
2] Made to Adore
In many ways, the story of the Magi is the story of every human person: searching, looking for joy, and looking for that something or someone that we can adore. There is a restlessness in every human person which pushes us out of ourselves. We know that we can’t find fulfilment inside ourselves. We need to give ourselves if we are to find ourselves.
The Magi were thought to be astrologers or alchemists or physicists or mathematicians. But whatever they were, they realised that their science was not enough in itself. The knowledge they had within them stirred them to seek more. It needed to lead them forward; it needed to give them a reason to live; it needed to give them a cause to fight for. Whatever was going on in their minds and hearts, they sensed in this phenomenon of the star (which again is given many different explanations by scholars), it gave them an indication that what they were searching for was to be found elsewhere. They knew that they had to go beyond and felt called by that Beyond, symbolised in the Star.
So, they don’t rest on their laurels or lie down to the limitations in which they find themselves. They get up and go a distance, a bit like Abraham who left his country to go to a land God pointed out to him. And when they come near to where their hearts are leading them, we are told in today’s Gospel, that they were “filled with delight.” It’s a pity that the translation says that because the original Greek actually says, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” – which is a lot of delight! It’s as if they couldn’t express sufficiently how happy they were.
And isn’t it true that that is how we feel when we come upon what it is that we are looking for! We find our “mojo”, we find our sense and purpose and with it the end of our restlessness. And what was it that gave them this exceedingly great joy? Is it going to be another scientific discovery or human ideology?
We are creatures who must adore. Those who are in love often say that they adore the ground their beloved walks on. Adoration expresses that surrender and submission of yourself to the other. But the only Other who can truly fulfil and not disappoint in that surrender is God. And that is whom the Magi find.
Once again much is lost in translation when our text says that the Magi fell to their knees and adored the child. There is no mention of knees in the original. The original word says that they fell prostrate, like the guards arresting Jesus in Gethsemane who fell to the ground when Jesus said, “I am He.” So the three Magi were not proud. They accepted in humility that they had to adore and fell to the ground. Adoration gives us a sense of completion, because we are not complete in ourselves or among ourselves, but only in God.
So, these three characteristics are part of all our lives and we must recognise and pursue them: the search for fulfilment in God, the joy in the search and humble adoration when we come near to Him. We can easily allow ourselves to be distracted by lesser beings than God and place all our hopes and adoration in them. But to do so is both to dumb ourselves down and to rebuff the living God. Our nature is limited. It cannot truly find fulfilment in what is limited or passing, but only in the eternal beauty and goodness of God. God will not overwhelm our nature or destroy it, but only bring it to its fullest blossoming. Nothing and no-one else is worthy of our love, our trust, our loyalty or our adoration more than the Lord our God!
This Epiphany, may the Lord grant us the three graces to search, to search in joy and to adore in finding what our hearts are truly looking for: the living God.