Sunday Mass: Darkness Required

January 03rd
This weekend in many churches across the country, selected members of the congregation will act out the scene described in this Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
Dressed in robes and wearing crowns on their heads, they will move in procession up the aisle of the church. Then they will reverently place the gifts they are carrying before the figure of the infant Jesus located in the parish's nativity scene.
Afterwards, many preachers will urge listeners to consider what gifts they can bring to the Lord.
However, Matthew's story about the coming of the magi is not just a heart-warming story about exotic visitors bringing gifts to a little baby boy or a call to personal generosity.
Matthew is using that event to teach us about Jesus and to challenge us spiritually.
The magi, who were described as coming "from the east," were Gentiles. They were not members of the Chosen People, as were the shepherds who had come earlier to see the "newborn king of the Jews." This king was able to draw Jews and Gentiles to himself. He was the savior of all people, even those people that others might judge beyond saving.
While the magi sought this newborn king, the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem made no move to search him out. Knowing predictions about the birth place of the coming Messiah did not motivate them to join the quest of the magi. Those religious leaders were happy with their power and position, happy with the status quo. Like most people, they had learned to deal with things as they were. Who knew what turmoil this child might cause?
Matthew described the gifts that were presented not to show the wealth of the givers, but to show who the recipient was. The gift of gold represented the royal status of the child. The frankincense represented his divinity; while the myrrh, used in burials, predicted, his saving death.
But there is something else in Sunday's Gospel that particularly relates to us today. In order to see the star that led them to the "newborn king," the magi had to be comfortable with darkness. Stars cannot be seen in daylight, and stars are equally invisible in places flooded with artificial light.
For us to find the Lord and to grow in our relationship with him we also need to be comfortable in the dark. We need to shut off, or at least tone down, the competing lights that keep us from seeing the true light of the world.
In our day and age, much of that competing light comes from the glowing screens of smart phones and tablets, from computer monitors and television sets, from the flashing images of video games, and from bright alerts from social networks. Those lights steal our attention away from the "true light." They also keep us focused on what is before our faces rather than on what is beyond and above us.
To recognize the presence of the Lord, we need to be comfortable in the "darkness" that comes when we step away from the bright, flashing distractions that our culture puts before us.
If the magi had lived in a world like ours, the light from their digital devices might have overtaken the darkness required to see the star that was shining above them.
© 2019 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski