We Discover “our Star” in the Ordinary Course of our Daily Lives
“… behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.”
Perhaps you’ve seen the touching Christmas episode of The West Wing which first aired several years ago but has since been repeated.
A few days before Christmas, Toby Ziegler, the President’s sarcastic and sardonic communications director, receives a call from the Washington D.C. police asking if he knows a homeless man who had died in the cold the night before. Toby has no idea who the man is. The police find Toby’s card in the coat the man was wearing — Toby had given the coat to a shelter a long time ago. Toby discovers that the man was a decorated Vietnam veteran; his only survivor is a brother who also lives on the streets. Toby uses his Presidential connections to arrange for the man’s internment with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Christmas Eve.
During the last five minutes of the episode, the scene switches back and forth between a children’s choir — surrounded by beautiful poinsettias and candles — performing for the President and the White House staff, and the austere Arlington honor guard laying the homeless veteran to rest, attended only by Toby Ziegler, the deceased man’s brother, and the President’s secretary. At first, you only see the children’s choir singing The Carol of the Drum (more commonly known as the Little Drummer Boy); but as the scene cuts to the hearse pulling up to the grave site at Arlington, the orchestra begins the relentless bass rum-tum-tum, rum-tum-tum of the carol.
In those last few moments of the program, the same drum beat that celebrates the birth of the Christ child accompanies a homeless veteran on his last journey.
Today, the Church celebrates the Epiphany of Our Lord. In today’s gospel, we hear about the adoration of the Magi from the east.
The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. These wise men knew about this expected Messiah, the king of the Jews. According to ideas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance in world history, would have a star connected with his birth. God made use of these ideas to draw to Christ these representatives of the Gentiles who would later be converted.
It seems strange that this star, which led them so near to the Christ Child, had suddenly vanished. St. John Chrysostum, Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church, claims that the star had been hidden from them so that on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all – gentile and Jew alike.
St. John Chrysostom also points out that God calls the Magi by means of the things they are most familiar with; and so He shows them a large and extraordinary star so that they would be impressed by its size and beauty. God called the wise men in the midst of their ordinary occupations as astronomers, and He still calls people in this way. He called Moses when he was shepherding his flock, and Elisha the prophet plowing his land with oxen, and Amos, another prophet, looking after his herd. What at first glance amazes us seems natural at closer look: that God has sought you out in the practice of your profession! That is how He sought the apostles, Peter and Andrew, James and John, beside their nets – fishing, and Matthew, sitting at the customs table collecting taxes. And — wonder of wonders! — He even calls St. Paul, in the midst of his eager responsibility to persecute and destroy the Christians.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, like Toby Ziegler, the President’s cynical communications director and like the Magi in today’s gospel, in the ordinary course of our daily lives, we have discovered a star — a light and a guide in the sky of our soul. We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shining in our soul and growing increasingly brighter. It was a desire to live a fully Christian life, and a keenness to take God seriously.
But also like the haunting drum beat on that Christmas episode of The West Wing we discover the paradox of the Epiphany. We rejoice with the Magi at the Messiah’s coming, but the work of the Messiah may also lead to rejection, ridicule and death. The light of Christ will shatter the darkness, but the darkness will not disperse willingly. Jesus, who will preach compassion and forgiveness, who will welcome the poor and rejected, who will bring healing and joy into the lives of the hurting and lost, will also be brought to ruin by the Herods and Judases in His life.
But the promise of Epiphany is that the light of Christ will ultimately triumph. As the magi depart let us resolved to remain walking with Christ from the manger in Bethlehem all the way to Golgatha outside of Jerusalem; to follow not just the beautiful star of Christmas but also the hard road of the Calvary; to accompany Jesus from the lake side to the upper room. The drums of the Little Drummer Boy Christmas Carol will be muted as the Christ event unfolds; but they shall beat once again in joy on Easter morning, the day of the Messiah’s complete victory over the darkness.
Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!