Sunday, January 6, 2019


Herod is, in part, instrumental in leading the Magi to Bethlehem. He is the one who calls the chief priests and scribes to inquire where the Messiah is to be born. Herod wanted to kill him, the Magi wanted to worship him. And that really is a succinct summary of the responses that people had to Jesus throughout his life and ministry. What is it about God's coming into the world that humanity finds so difficult to take? What is it about God’s coming into my world that I may find so difficult to take? Herod offers us a clue. 
When the Magi asked, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” Herod was frightened. And that is what goes on in all our lives. It is a story as old as Adam and Eve; after Adam took the forbidden fruit the first thing he did was hide! God came looking for Adam and called, “Where are you?” Adam answered, “I was afraid, so I hid myself.” So it is that in Scripture angels always preface their approach to human beings with a “Don’t be afraid!” Certainly this fear has something to do with the magnitude of the transformation God’s presence offers us.

God’s presence, God’s love is always transforming. To really encounter God, we must let go of ourselves, our identities, our securities, our compromises, our tending to ‘business as usual’. We must come out of hiding. And this is frightening. It is really no wonder that we find it so hard to say ‘yes’ to God and to welcome his presence in our lives. It is so difficult to really bow down and worship as the Magi did. It requires all that we have and all that we are.

The Magi were on a journey; fundamentally a journey of transformation. We are told that they returned home by another route. In other words, they were different, changed, transformed by their encounter with God. This is a journey that we are all on. The Magi’s journey wasn’t easy. Neither is ours; it is hard to say ‘yes’ to God. It is hard to risk staying on the journey of transformation. It is hard to let go of our securities, whatever they may be. It is hard to entrust ourselves to an unknown future and to the way of love. It is hard to continue on the journey of transformation.

But what is the alternative? There really isn’t one, unless we want to live in a world where innocents are slaughtered; where cruel tyrants reign supreme; where mercy is extinct. And if that is not the kind of world we want to live in, then we must consciously continue on the journey of transformation. It is a journey of receiving love and mercy and becoming ourselves loving and  merciful. 

The only way to remain on this journey of transformation, is to begin again every day, never tiring of noticing my fear; noticing where I’m in hiding; where I’m tempted to turn back. As much as I can, I must press on. Patience is a prerequisite; it was for the Magi, it is for us. The journey is a life-long, and I never want to stop asking that love make its home in me. 

God gives each of us a gift; the gift is an invitation to be transformed into his way of being in the world. Receiving the gift means recognizing our fright and not acting out of it as Herod did - not allowing it to keep us hiding from God but inviting the gift of God’s presence to transform us. This is what the Eucharist is all about - we welcome the magnitude of the gift we receive and allow it to fill the magnitude of our fright. 

Adoration of the Magi, Workshop of Gerard David (Netherlandish, Oudewater ca. 1455–1523 Bruges), ca. 1520, Oil on wood, 27 3/4 x 28 7/8 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.  Excerpts from Abbot Damian’s homily for Epiphany; he acknowledges his debt to Sarah Bachelard for several of these reflections.