Not too long ago I saw a marble bas-relief representing the adoration of the child Jesus by the Magi. The central figures were surrounded by four angels, each one bearing a symbol: a crown, an orb surmounted by the cross, a sword and a sceptre. The artist had chosen symbols with which we are all familiar to illustrate the event we commemorate today. Some wise men whom tradition describes as kings come to pay homage to a child, after having been to Jerusalem to ask “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?”
Moved by this question, I too now contemplate Jesus “lying in a manger,” in a place fit only for animals. Lord, where is your kingship, your crown, your sword, your sceptre? They are his by right, but he does not want them. He reigns wrapped in swaddling clothes. Our king is unadorned. He comes to us as a defenceless little child. Can we help but recall the words of the Apostle: “He emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave”?
Our Lord became man to teach us the Father’s will. And this he is already doing as he lies there in the manger. Jesus Christ is seeking us — with a call which is a vocation to sanctity — so that we may carry out the redemption with him. Let us reflect on this first lesson of his. We are to co-redeem, by striving to triumph not over our neighbour, but over ourselves. Like Christ we need to empty ourselves, to consider ourselves as the servants of others, and so to bring them to God.
Where is the king? Could it be that Jesus wants to reign above all in men’s hearts, in your heart? That is why he has become a child, for who can help loving a little baby? Where then is the king? Where is the Christ whom the Holy Spirit wants to fashion in our souls? He cannot be present in the pride that separates us from God, nor in the lack of charity which cuts us off from others. Christ cannot be there. In that loveless state man is left alone.
As you kneel at the feet of the child Jesus on the day of his Epiphany and see him a king bearing none of the outward signs of royalty, you can tell him: “Lord, take away my pride; crush my self-love, my desire to affirm myself and impose myself on others. Make the foundation of my personality my identification with you.”
We want to identify ourselves with Christ. It is not an easy goal. But it is not difficult either, if we live as our Lord has taught us to live, if we have recourse to his word every day, if we fill our lives with the sacramental reality, the Eucharist, which he has given us for our nourishment. Then the Christian’s path proves to be viable. God has called us clearly and unmistakably. Like the Magi 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, a keenness to take God seriously. If each one of you were to tell aloud the intimate details of how his vocation made itself felt, the rest of us would conclude immediately that it was all God’s doing. Let us give thanks to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and to Holy Mary, through whom all blessings from heaven come to us, for this gift which, along with our faith, is the greatest the Lord can bestow on any of his creatures. It is a clear desire to attain the fullness of charity, the conviction that sanctity is not only possible but necessary in the midst of our social and professional tasks.
Look how gently the Lord invites us. His words have human warmth; they are the words of a person in love: “I have called you by your name. You are mine.” God, who is beauty and greatness and wisdom, declares that we are his, that we have been chosen as the object of his infinite love. We need a strong life of faith to appreciate the wonder his providence has entrusted to us. A faith like that of the Magi, a conviction that neither the desert, nor the storms, nor the quiet of the oases will keep us from reaching our destination in the eternal Bethlehem: our definitive life with God.