There May Yet Be a Gift to Discover?
The trail of the Magi is still fresh. We are happy for the Holy Family that they received such good gifts. We all love gifts!
The Chosen People are gifted, indeed ‘chosen’. They are light-bearers, a city upon a hill whose light would attract all nations. In salvation history Isaias the prophet told Israel that the day would come when the gentiles would take hold of the garments of the Jews and be led by them to God. Israel not only received such a gift but were blessed with the joy of being gift bearers. We also love giving joy and gifts!
At Christmas this year an Orthodox nun from Belarus stopped by our monastery to pass a few hours as she awaited a connecting flight to take her home. As we walked through the monastery she quietly told me that she liked her icons more than the type of art on our walls. I know that she has a sensitivity to the depth of meaning in an Icon that I do not appreciate. Even in teasing her that she was enjoying the best of both worlds, a Christmas celebration and then her Epiphany celebration, I knew I could not appreciate her depth of joy for all the meaning of the Epiphany. It is hard for me to see the gift of God’s love revealed to all the nations and celebrated in the Epiphany as being a greater celebration than Jesus’ birth. I can easily include what the Epiphany celebrates in Jesus’ birth.
But Matthew, whose gospel gives us the visit of the Magi, writes for a Jewish audience and underlines how universal is the gift at the end of the gospel when Jesus tells those who gather at the Ascension to go even to the ends of the earth to tell the Good News to all peoples. So, Matthew is stressing this universal gift. He must have a reason for doing so. It is not a given. He is saying, ‘some with the gift may be holding back, not unlike such a temptation any of us might feel having fallen in love with a particular gift we are going to surrender. Be honest, it’s not only the little kids who have that problem, right?’
In Nazareth, the joy of the gift will turn to a bit of anger in the next sentence just beyond today’s gospel. Some don’t want to share their gift.
I am fascinated by my Orthodox friend who has a deep awareness that God shares with all the gift given to Israel. St. Paul will say that the Chosen People would always be chosen in their role of revealing the gift of God to the world, but he gives up trying to explain the mystery of how God’s love unfolds! But Jesus is the Messiah for whom Israel waited and all the world unknowingly longed, and in whose coming creation is graced. Some would put brakes on the generous giving of God’s love to all. Some take it for granted, and some focus on it with profound joy and awareness.
Where are we on the gift-giving/receiving spectrum? Do we express thanks? Do we like to share our new treasures? Does the gift unite me to the giver more joyfully or intimately? Will it be a gift we always remember, and even one that whets our appetite, makes us wonder or even long about the possibilities of the next one to come?
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.