Monday, January 4, 2021

Take another road

They left for their own country by another road

The Solemn Feast of the Epiphany came early this year, January 3, 2021. The manger we have set up in our home and in our parishes now display the three wise men or magi. The Christmas scene is complete.

A reflection that many of us have done, beginning as early as childhood, is placing each of the figures in their special location. The infant Jesus, of course, is at the cent re surrounded by Mary and Joseph, some lambs and likely a cow. Occasionally some other figures have been added, such as toy figures from some movie or comic strip. If you have done this, don’t worry whether it was sacrilegious or not; it wasn’t. What you or your children were doing was expressing the truth of the incarnation, God came for all humankind and all creation.

As we have set up these mangers or possibly stopped to look at them, we may have paused and thought of the birth of Christ. Pope Francis in his 2019 Apostolic Letter, Admirabile Signum, suggested we set up the Christmas crèche in our homes and parishes it helps us to relive the history of what took place in Bethlehem. Although the Gospels remain our source for understanding and reflecting on that event, at “the same time, its portrayal in the crèche helps us to imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real in a broad gamut of historical and cultural contexts.”

Later he invites us to reflect on the scene and each of the figures. While his insightful description provides some interesting insights into this biblical scene, he encourages all of us to let our own imagination bring to life this historical event the birth of Christ and those who witnessed it.

As Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, suggested in his second method of imagining: Place yourself fully within a story from the Gospels. Become onlooker-participants and give full rein to our imagination. For example, as Ignatius describes in the Spiritual Exercises, second week, “imagine the labours of the journey to Bethlehem, the struggles of finding a shelter, the poverty, the thirst, the hunger, the cold, the insults that meet the arrival of God-with-us.”

This year what I did was to reflect on each character. For example, the one shepherd that came with my set, I thought how the message of an angel must have impacted his life. Here is a person, whose occupation leaves him living on the fringes of society. Now, he is invited to stand in the presence of Jesus, the son of God.

Then last line of the gospel for the Epiphany ends with the following words: “they left for their own country by another road.” In other words, these wise men from the East could no longer follow the life-path they had pursued before. Standing in the presence of the infant Jesus, everything changed. Knowing that God is with us and that we are with him, changes the way we see ourselves, the choices we make, the life we lead and even the paths we take. 

 As Pope Francis concluded in the his Apostolic letter: “Like Saint Francis, may we open our hearts to this simple grace, so that from our wonderment a humble prayer may arise: a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who wished to share with us his all, and thus never to leave us alone.”



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