Homily Feast of the Epiphany Cycle B January 7, 2018

It’s natural to rest when we’re tired. It’s natural to eat when we’re hungry, or drink when we’re thirsty, and to dress up warm when it’s bitter cold outside. It’s natural to turn the heat on in our vehicles on mornings when the wind chill registers in the negative numbers, rather than driving on the highway with all the windows down so we can freeze ourselves. It’s natural for planes and blimps to fly, and for trains to ride the track. When it goes off the track, it’s not good news, because it loses its natural purpose for existence.
So much of what we do is second nature, or natural, that we don’t think about it when we’re doing it. We just do it in order to satisfy some aspect of our life, hoping to complete it safely and well. It doesn’t always work out that way, as we know. I had an on-call overnight stint at UMass and Memorial earlier this week, and one of the calls was to speak with a family of a woman patient who was eating a meal at a restaurant, began choking on her food, and now was to the point where the family made the tough decision of having to remove all the medical machinery. Just one example of the many each day throughout the world where occasions and simple events, like eating out as many people do, may not end as expected.
However, much of what we do is natural, second nature, no thought of ending in any way than what is expected. In our celebration of the Epiphany, the Church gives us these readings today to help us understand, among other reasons, how the most natural course of the human person is to journey toward the One who is our Creator. To travel another road in life other than the one that leads to the eternal and fulfilling presence of God is to travel an unnatural road. A road that will lead to frustration, to hopelessness, to misery, and ultimately to spiritual destruction.
If the Magi, the Three Wise Men, had stayed home and not followed the star, or traveled away from the star rather toward it, a star that was most natural to their livelihoods as astrologers, then it would have been time for them to hang up their telescopes. Or put them up for auction on eBay. It would have been the most unnatural choice they ever would have made in the history of their stargazing and looking into the heavens. Instead, they made the natural choice, and they followed the inviting star. They followed the star through storms, through calm, through the uncertainty of where the star was going to stop. Where is this star leading us? Where is Jesus leading us, as we follow his star?
Rather than stay home in the safety of their warm living rooms, with cable tv and delivery pizza, the Magi pack their bags after noticing this unusual star and traveled a journey that held many uncertainties, full speed ahead to Bethlehem, even though they lacked knowledge of where the star was leading them. They trusted the star to be legitimate.
The Three Wise Men offer us a couple of basic understandings of what each of us is in the midst of doing in our spiritual lives. First, that looking for Christ in our daily living; that following him when times are tough with sandstorms and lack of direction; that coming here every Sabbath Day and receiving him in his word and in his Eucharist, is natural for us. It’s natural for every person to draw ourselves back to our Creator. To search him out. To desire his love and purpose for being born into a body like ours. It’s as natural as most New Englanders cheering for the Patriots and Red Sox. Chasing after God, chasing after our Savior Jesus, is natural. There is nothing more natural in this entire worldly existence than chasing after God. There are many who do not, living the most unnatural lives. But for those who do, may we know that our most basic human instincts are being fulfilled.
Second, the Magi teach us how to handle and address all the Herod’s we’re forced to face on this journey. They are the weeds among the wheat, which Jesus says don’t tear out the Herod’s lest we destroy some of the good wheat too.
When they enter the presence of Herod, the impression the story gives is that the Magi enter before the king with innocence and a strong dose of being naïve. You don’t walk up to wretched, violent Herod and say, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” That’s a death wish. It’s nothing short of miraculous that they left Herod’s presence alive. How did that happen? They must have had the best Guardian Angels. It’s the only reason I can discern.
When the Herod’s arrive for us, and indeed they will, and for some they already have, we do what the Magi did. Continue to follow the star. Why? Because we haven’t reached the Kingdom of Heaven yet. If the Magi were not so innocent and naïve concerning Herod’s intentions of wanting to destroy the child, they would have lived in fear for the remainder of their journey to Bethlehem.
We never have to live in spiritual fear as Christians, getting knocked off the course of following the star of Christ. He will provide the grace and strength needed to finish the race, as St. Paul wrote about himself. Take on the same determination the Magi possessed to finish the race, all the way o Bethlehem, all the way into the eternal presence of our Creator. It’s the most natural course for our lives.