There is a fundamental difference between looking for something and searching for something. Looking for something is more casual and uncommitted but searching is more active and painstaking. “Gulder Ultimate Search” is a season-based television reality show I love to watch. It normally features some “warriors” chosen from a large lot to undertake an extensive search; an ultimate search. Actually the warriors that number between ten and twelve or above are sent into a specified location (a forest) to recover a lost or hidden treasure (or symbol). Being a competitive show, the competitors get evicted one after another until the last three warriors emerge and go through the last search until one of them emerges as the winner by finding the treasure or symbol.
Life is basically filled with a lot of SEARCHING! People search for different things for different purposes. Some search for money by undertaking some ventures. Some search for wives, some for husbands, some for children, some search for power, some search for relevance, some search for happiness, some also search for trouble; in fact there are many forms of searches with their corresponding findings.
Today being the First Sunday of the year the Church turns our attention to the Wise Men from the East known also as the magi. Today we celebrate a very significant search; in fact the ultimate search! It is a significant and ultimate search because the search was not on anything worldly; it was not a search for self-aggrandizement, it was not a search for relevance; it was rather an ingenious search for God. It is good to indicate immediately that it was not a fruitless search like the ones some of us undertake. It was a search that was painstaking but also fruitful which confirms the word of God that says: “seek and you shall find” (Matt.7:7); as well as the oracle of Jeremiah (29:13) which says: “you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart”.
Based on the above, another aspect of our celebration today shows forth; namely, FINDING God! Or put in another way, God’s manifestation of Himself to those who earnestly search for him. It is on this basis that we are celebrating today the feast of Epiphany which from the Greek rendering (epiphania) means appearance, revelation or manifestation. Today we thus celebrate God’s revelation or manifestation of himself to the WORLD in the person of Jesus Christ. Formerly God’s revelation was restricted to the chosen people Israel; but in later time God showed Himself to the whole world. After the visit of the shepherds (presumably Jews) to the new born child through the direction of the nativity angels, wise men from the East (Gentiles) also encountered the glory of God’s manifestation through Jesus Christ with the direction of the magnificent star. The letter to the Hebrews (Heb.1:1-2) made this very clear thus:
In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
Today we reflect on the vision and mission of the wise men from the east. There are many legends surrounding identity of these men. Some people refer to them as “three” wise men on account of the three gifts they brought not that the account of Matthew (2:1-12) recorded that they were three. In some translation they are called magi which refers to a caste within ancient Zoroastrian religion that were so knowledgeable in studying the movement of the heavenly bodies; some would thus liken them to astrologers while others still refer to them as kings.
We are more concerned about their vision and mission than whom they were. The bible reported that they saw a star that was different from the usual as it indicated the birth of a great king. Only the godly minded can see and appreciate divine signs and portends. The search for God can only take place in a mind that has connection and desire for God. We are told that they came from the east having seen the star that indicated the birth of a king. Before any worthwhile search, the searcher must first be convinced of the importance and value of the object being sought for. Now the wise men saw from the star a priceless King, a King with a difference. The search for this King became a priority for them that they were ready to forgo other things. They were not ready to send emissaries but went personally to make this awesomely great visit in Bethlehem.
It is important to note that their search was not an easy one. There was the confusion from the senseless Herod who had no wisdom at all. The wise men you could have been kings may have felt that Herod could have seen what they saw. They could have thought that if they could see the star from the Far East, the king who resides in the city should have prescience about the birth of a marvellous King. They could have also being disappointed when they discovered that the resident king was oblivious of the birth of Jesus Christ. A further demonstration of the foolishness of Herod was when he asked the wise men to go and find out where the king had been born (unaccompanied) and return to tell him so that he can go and do him homage.
Reflecting further on these men we ask: “why were they called wise men?” Apart from their learning through which they acquired knowledge, they were also imbued with wisdom which ultimately comes from God. Another question will be: “was their wisdom before or after the visit to the new born king?” We have to explore these in what follows as to why they were referred to as wise:
- They were called “wise men” because they could read the signs of time and were able to understand divine signs. Wisdom consists in knowing where to go and when to do so.
- They were called “wise men” because they left the comfort of their homes and occupation to search for God. Hence they understood that God is above everything and He is worth searching for just as we cannot exchange Him for anything at all.
- They were called “wise men” because they remained steadfast in their search, even when the star disappeared they were not discouraged. They sought assistance from Herod whom they presumed was wise but he was not.
- They were called “wise men” because they listened and followed the advice of God through the angel not to return to Herod and to return to their base through another route.
- They were called “wise men” because they offered gifts with great significance to the mission of Jesus Christ.
In our day and age are there wise men and women are still searching for God? When God calls do they answer and make themselves available to Him? To answer God’s call there is need for one to leave one’s position to a new one. In all the examples of God’s call one thing remains consistent, the person called is expected to leave his or her position to a new one. There is a constant need for us to change our positions. The wise men left the comfort of their location in the east to respond to God’s call through the star they saw. In this New Year we are also called to change to a new position from the unproductive old one that had been the cause of our stagnation, pain and failure. For us to move to this new position we need to be insightful enough to see the star and to follow it to where it will lead us. We need to be in constant search for God. An attentive mind may quickly ask: “where can we search for God?” We can search for God in the following places:
- In ourselves. God is in us. We are created in His own image and likeness. (Gen. 1:27). The Kingdom of God is within us. (Luke 17:21).
- In our fellow human beings. Whatever you do unto others that you have done unto me (Matt. 25:31).
- In God Himself through His words and the sacraments. “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer.29:13). “So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. (John 6:53).
- In the situations and conditions of our lives. There is a quick lesson we need to learn from the journey of the wise men. From the account we have from Matthew (2:1ff) they saw the star and followed it but by the time they came into the city of Jerusalem they could not see it again. It was then that they inquired from Herod about where the king of the Jews will be born whose star they saw earlier. Herod was ignorant of this notwithstanding his status as the king and he consulted the men of letters who confirmed the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.
Immediately the wise men continued their journey to Bethlehem and the search for the new born king, the star appeared again and went ahead of them until it came to the place where Christ was born. The lesson here is that we should never be discouraged when a situation does not seem to be favourable like it was in the past. These wise men were not discouraged; they stayed in the game. When profit is no longer forth coming like before in your business, stay in the game. When your family life seems to be facing turbulent times, stay in the game. When no one seems to appreciate your input at your workplace, stay in the game. The wise men could have turned back when the star disappeared and when the King could not understand what they were talking about; they stayed in the game and their mission was fulfilled as the star came out again.
Like in the experience of the wise men sometimes the star may no longer be there; things might change but that does not mean that God has changed. Sometimes your star would seem dim; do not worry, it will rise and shine again but you have to remain in the game like the wise men.
Today as we celebrate the epiphany of the Lord; which tells us of the showing forth of Jesus Christ to the world, we ask ourselves what we show forth in our lives. What type of epiphany do we engage ourselves in? There many things people are showing forth in our day and age. Some have nudity to show, some have wickedness to show, some hatred, and other vices. We are challenged today to become imitators of God by showing forth love. That was actually the culmination of the epiphany; the manifestation of God’s love in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have a fulfilling feast of epiphany and a blessed week ahead.
Fr. Bonnie (firstname.lastname@example.org)