B: Who found Jesus? – Epiphany


Isaiah 60:1-4, Psalm 72:1-7, Matthew 2:1-12

January 5, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

January 6 is known as "Epiphany" according to the traditional Christian calender. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on this day. It is the day to commemorate the coming of the wise men from the East bearing gifts to worship the baby Jesus. They were foreigners – gentiles or pagans to the Jews. They believed that divine revelations were visible in the movements of stars. We celebrate this day, because it was the first time Jesus revealed himself to the believers of a different religion. The story of the wise men also tells us that God will find us when we find meaning in our occupations and are committed to the things we do in them.

What is interesting is the fact that the Bible reports only two rather odd groups of people who visited the baby Jesus. They were the shepherds and the wise men of the East. Priests and scholars knew that the Bible had predicted that the birth of a special child would take place in Bethlehem. But they did not bother to go to Bethlehem. The king was interested to know about it solely because he wanted to kill the baby who might become a threat to his throne. The inn keeper who refused Mary and Joseph, obviously, did not know anything about the birth of the Messiah. Other ordinary people did not know anything about it. The shepherds and the magi were the least expected kind of people God would invite to meet his new born child.

The shepherds were nomads who were in search of grazing land all the time. They did not have normal homes. They cooked, ate, and slept in the open or in tents. Their security was all in animals, and was always precarious. They had a hard life. They wore rags, rarely washed themselves, and had weather-worn leathery skin. Being a shepherd was not just a job; it was a full-time way of life. Ordinarily, they lived on the edge of the human community, away from normal social life. They must have been like modern-day Gypsies, who still live on the edges of settled communities, often in trailers in parking lots of England and other continental European countries. They are never like other people nor do they try to be. They live their own lives. They are stubbornly bonded to their life-style.

The magi came from the east of Palestine. There were people from ancient Persia, which is the present day Iran, who believed that stars determined the destiny of people. It was in ancient Persia where astrology was developed. *Many people in our society today believe in astrology, as you know.* Because every movement of stars was important, watching stars, recording and predicting their movements were a full-time occupation for many highly educated people. They were a respected class of intellectuals, because people believed that they could predict the future. But they were definitely not priests, prophets, or teachers of the Jewish religion. They were not expected to make an important discovery about the religion of the Old Testament. They were after all gentiles – pagans. Why should these unlikely people be the ones who found Jesus first? It”s humbling to realize that the Bible is speaking about the believers of another religion and homeless herders as the only ones permitted to meet the Holy Child during his very first few days in this world.

Here you must understand the notion of vocation to understand this puzzle. The word – vocation comes from a Latin word – "vocatio". It means "to call" or "to summon". It comes from the idea that God called or summoned you to do a certain thing. It can be the same thing as a job or an occupation. But often it is not. You are lucky if your vocation and your job are the same thing. In your vocation, you are committed to the things that you do, because you believe that God is calling you to do them. Your vocation makes your life important and meaningful. It makes your life a pleasure: something worth living. One person told me that she just loved what she did, and that she felt lucky to be paid for what she does. Some people have a job in order to pursue a vocation which is different from the job, because their vocation does not provide a living. Many artists are committed to pursue their art, which often does not pay. So they are used to the idea that they have to have jobs to support themselves, to allow them to pursue the real purpose of their lives, which are their vocations. Many Catholic religious orders are operating on that principle. They make a living by making cheeze, teaching school or becoming nurses; but they do these things only so they are able to pray, to study the Bible, or to serve people.

The wise men of the East and the shepherds had vocations. They were totally committed to doing what they were doing. In fact, those men from the East must have gambled everything they owned to undertake the journey to Bethlehem. Travelling in those days was a hazardous undertaking. They had to provide their own modes of transportation, which were not affordable to many people. There were no maps. Predators of both animal and human kind were many. It was a very costly venture. It was a gamble. They might have believed in a different religion, but they were totally committed to what they believed to be their vocation. The shepherds were committed to their vocation, too. They were not ashamed of their work, though other people thought them to be a lower class. God rewards those who are committed to their vocations by revealing the truth.

On the other hand, some people corrupt their vocation by compromising their commitments. Those priests and Biblical scholars who surrounded the king did not want to displease the king. So they did not follow what they were supposed to have believed. They did not do what the Bible said they should. Ministers of religions, medical doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, and teachers have the types of jobs that require a sense of vocation. But we know that, unfortunately, some of them don”t live like the ones who have vocations. Ambitions for wealth, power, and often mere vanity corrupt them. They lose their vocations by making them mere jobs they do for living. They no longer have commitments. They no longer feel that God is calling them to do anything. Those without a sense of vocation will inevitably miss the new born Jesus, even if they know, in theory, where to find him.

The story of the wise men of the East is an indictment against those who compromise themselves and pursue ulterior goals while pretending to work for noble causes. It is also a celebration of those who find meaning for their lives in what they do, and are committed to doing the things they believe God called them to do. All of us have been called by God to do some meaningful work in our lives. Salvation is revealed to those who find meaning in their work. When you find the meaning of life, you have found the baby Jesus.

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