We have grown too familiar with today’s gospel and might miss some mysteries hidden in it. Wise men traveled from the east. St Matthew tells us they were Magi. Magi were priests in Persia belonging to the Zoroastrian religion. They were respected and wealthy. They were reputed to be great astrologers and devoted their lives to wisdom. Given the fact that the Zoroastrian religion is about light, what was so different about the light of the star, so utterly different that it impelled them to undertake so dangerous and arduous a journey.
This one of the mysteries we must ponder. There is another mystery – after this long dangerous journey, where do they land up? At a world famous university? No. At the home of a great rabbi? No. In Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world? No. They were brought to a modest home in an equally modest place called Bethlehem. They went in the found a child with its mother. And this is where it gets really mysterious. They prostrated and did him homage. Not any ordinary respect – the word used is for worship. They worshipped this baby. We should not just say – ah well and pass on to something else.
There is a great mystery operating here –There was something about the child that brought them to their knees. There was this mysterious light about the child that was quite unlike the light the Zoroastrians were used to. This was not a light but The Light.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in a homily on the Epiphany gives us the key to this mystery. He points out that in the first letter of St John two things are brought into relation. St John says –God is light and in Him there is no darkness. And in that same letter, St John also says – God is Love. A light that is love. This is the light that brought them to their knees. These were wise men. They probably had a fine philosophical formation. But it was not enough. Knowledge about things is not enough. Ideas are not enough. Wealth is not enough. Fame not enough. Only an encounter with God can fill up the void in us. We need to see a Face that accepts us totally and completely. This is what happened in that modest home. I come back to the beautiful words of Pope Benedict ‘- ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ The key word is encounter. An encounter by definition is to come upon something or someone unexpectedly. It has the element of surprise, wonder, of gift, even ecstasy in that it takes us out of ourselves and our limited, constricted world just when we least expect it.
In that baby, the wise men encounter the loving face of God. And their lives are not the same again. That birth was their death, the death of their old self –as T.S. Eliot tells us in his 43 line poem on The Journey of the Magi. The gospel puts it simply – they departed for their country by another way. Only love can change us –force can frighten us into compliance but only love can convert us.
Which brings me to a modern day Epiphany. There was a Sikh boy from a prominent family in Northern India. He was sent to an exclusive Catholic prep school. He was talented, a good sportsman and had a great singing voice and landed in the school choir. Because of this he, a Sikh, was invited to sing at the Easter Vigil Mass at the local parish. He was 13 years old. It was the first time he had set foot in a Catholic Church. In his own words ‘in that night I have vivid memories of the crucifix hanging on the wall and all the people on their knees praying. I did not understand how people could pray to a weak and dying God. For God had to emanate strength and power and this god was just the opposite. He left the Mass with the image of the cross and the dead man on it. The light had snagged him. A God who was so unlike other gods – weak, dying. This blows his mind. The questions never left him again. In his words ‘it unveiled for me a totally new way. It was the encounter not with power but with love. He converted in secret so as not to upset his Sikh parents and bring disgrace upon his family. And for many years had to keep this secret. But the light never deserted young Jaideep. There is even more – today Jaideep Taluja, is Fr Stephen James Taluja, a Maryknoll missionary.
We celebrate the light that is love today. May this light change our lives. ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’