The Unfamiliar Presence of God

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    Gospel according to Matthew (2:1-12)

    WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

    Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

    Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

    After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.

    They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves, and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

    ***
    The Magi from the East might not have been kings at all. The word ‘magi’ (in Greek, magoi) literally means “stargazers.” This is related to their decision to leave behind their comforts and embark on a journey to search for the star. They knew rightly that the key to happiness and peace is God, and they searched for him. Theirs was not an ordinary journey. It was expensive and risky, but they did it nonetheless. They must have worked a lot in order to acquire their provisions necessary for crossing the desert.

    Their story is told in contrast to that of Herod, who felt threatened by the news that the Messiah had been born. Herod is the typical powerful and ruthless leader that seeks to preserve power at all costs, even to the point of sacrificing others. He killed his own wife and son on mere suspicion that they were plotting against him. He celebrated palace orgies and expensive banquets that made him infamous. His was the world that was to be shared by Jesus, and is still the world where we live: populated by leaders who are only interested in money, pleasure, power, and prestige.

    Yet the Holy Spirit continues to stir people to be Magi, who seek wisdom and pursue the truth at all cost. These are leaders who value the voice of their consciences; who, in worshipping God, know that this God demands from them an existence not centered on themselves but on others. They search for God in the poor and serve them without counting the worldly price of their efforts, believing that through their deeds they reveal the face of God.

    The Magi of today leave behind the familiar face of God that they may have encountered in the beautiful acts of worship, celebrations, and pilgrimages, seeking him instead in the peripheries of society. For them the places of the poor become the new sacred spaces, the site where they offer their treasures, time, and talents. They bow down to this mysterious God who has identified himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the persecuted.

    Pope Francis has labeled the poor as the new teachers of Christian faith. They did not learn their theology from any university, but live the suffering Christ in their daily struggle to get a piece of bread. Yet they are not discouraged, not losing hope despite the brutal reality of poverty, maintaining their smiles and laughter while sharing the little that they have to each other. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of Manila spoke of them as teachers of true faith, hope, and love. Whereas other people at the slightest experience of suffering and pain think of suicide, these people, he insisted, brace themselves to continue living. Those who search for God in the periphery will encounter the “magisterium of the poor” who reveals to them the unfamiliar but personal and liberating presence of God.

    The Magi in our times are marching with Pope Francis in his call for a renewal of mission. Everyone is invited to join them in this sacred pilgrimage.
    – Fr. Teotimo Melliza, SSP

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