[Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12]
Many smartphones these days have a feature called “Share Your Location”. By some wizardry far beyond my understanding, one device is able to convey to another the precise location of its owner. This can be very useful, if, say, you want to let visitors know the precise location of your dwelling, or if someone picking you up would have difficulty finding you otherwise. The point is that we choose to “share our location” because we want to be found.
On this Solemnity of the Epiphany, we are given Saint Matthew’s account of God sharing His location. In this Christmastide, we celebrate God’s coming among us in the birth from Mary of His Incarnate Son, Jesus. His birthplace is not immediately visible to many people, so God shares His location in order to be found. He does so at first via the angelic announcement to shepherds in the nearby hill country. Now, by the light of a star, God signals to the whole world, represented by the wise men, His precise location.
The point here is as beautiful as it is wondrous: God, who has become one of us in Jesus, wants very much to be found by His people. He wants us all to encounter Him personally, to come to know and accept the ineffable love He reveals perfectly and uniquely in the person of Jesus Christ. God shares His location, tells us precisely where He is to be found, so that we might enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with Him.
That divine desire is not limited to the people who lived at the time of Jesus. In the son born of Mary, God wants to be found by all people of every era. God’s universal embrace is foreshadowed by Isaiah’s prophecy. As Saint Paul puts it, God has come in Jesus for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Therefore, God continues to share His location that He might be found. The glow from the star has now given way to the light of the Gospel. Its directional rays pinpoint precisely the location of Jesus Christ in every age. They guide us, first, to Sacred Scripture. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is personally encountered in the pages of the Bible, which is the living Word of God. They point us also to the Church, which is his Mystical Body. Within the Church, Jesus is found no longer as a baby in a manger but now as Crucified and Risen Lord in the sacraments, in the person of his sacred ministers, in the gathered Christian community, and in the poor and needy served by the Church’s ministry of charity. God wants to be found; the Gospel tells us He is to be found when we encounter Jesus Christ, and so directs us to his location.
Now that the light of the Gospel has made known the location of the Lord Jesus, a question presents itself for us to ponder: shall we imitate the wise men and set out to encounter him? That is a question we may find both challenging and disturbing. If we examine ourselves closely, perhaps we’ll discover that we are inclined, like the chief priests and scribes when they heard of the star, not to respond at all to the invitation to seek Jesus. Astonishingly, they, the religious leaders, knew well the ancient prophecy that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, yet they were unmoved by the wondrous star and the possibility of fulfillment it heralded. Unlike the wise men, who arose from the known and familiar to encounter the child, the chief priests and scribes complacently preferred their status quo. They didn’t move. The Gospel is inviting us to leave behind the usual, to detach ourselves from our preferences, and to seek Christ where he is to be found, ready to have our lives find new direction in him. Shall we set out on the journey, or stay where we are?
To explore further the message of the Gospel text, allow me to return to the smartphone feature. There are times when we will turn off the “share location” function, because we do not want to be found, whether that be by Google or Internet marketers. Are we willing to be found by God? God wants us to encounter Him where He is, yes; He also wants to find us where we are. In Jesus Christ, God has come to the world in search of His people, lost due to sin. He has come to find us, save us by the forgiveness of our sins, and lead us back to His merciful embrace. Obviously, God does not need us to share with Him our location; He knows exactly where we are. Yet God, in His love, never forces Himself upon us; he awaits our invitation for Him to enter into our lives. From this arises a second question: shall we allow ourselves to be found?
As we reflect upon that question, let’s consider carefully the response of Herod. He in no way wanted to be found by the child born in Bethlehem. Announced by the wise men as the newborn king of the Jews, this child was for Herod a threat to his rule, one who would therefore upend entirely the life he had set for himself. King Herod was not the first to consider God a menace. In fact, ever since the evil one told Adam and Eve the lie that God is a threat to their freedom, humanity has lived under the illusion that God is not to be trusted, and has therefore resisted the invitation to welcome His Word and His love. Has that same illusion captured our way of thinking? Do we fear God and the change that will come to our chosen way of life if we allow ourselves to be found by His mercy? The truth, of course, is that God is entirely worthy of our trust. As the late Pope Benedict was fond of repeating, when we allow ourselves to be found by Jesus Christ, we lose nothing and gain everything.
Jesus himself once shared his location when, at the Last Supper, he said to the Apostles: “This is my Body; this is my Blood.” From that time onward the Church has understood the sacrament of the Eucharist as the location par excellence where Jesus is to be found and where he comes to find us. By his grace, poured out upon us in this mass, may our hearts be opened wide to welcome him anew into our lives, ready to be transformed by the power of his love, and eager to share his location with a world that needs to find him.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
January 8th, 2023