Gold, frankincense and myrrh have never been under my tree. No one has ever given these gifts to me and I have not given them to others as a Christmas gift. They were the three symbolic gifts that the wise travelers laid at the manger as they honored Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.
Recently at Mass (on Dec. 21) we heard the story of Mary traveling to visit Elizabeth: When Mary first spoke to her at her greeting, even John in Elizabeth’s womb “leapt for pure joy.” John’s acknowledgment of the presence of the Messiah was his gift, and later came to be his herald of the Good News, who spoke of himself in humility as “unworthy to untie his sandal straps.”
Do we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, Messiah and Savior? Have we leapt for joy at his coming and dwelling in our midst? Have we encountered that presence so near to us? Have we received his gift of self, his love, his peace, his joy? What a tremendous gift he gives, still even today for those whose hearts’ doors have remained open.
I recently was spiritual director on the diocese’s annual Holy Land pilgrimage. This was certainly a true “trip of a lifetime.” Touring the Holy Land and walking where Jesus walked and offered ministry to the multitudes was so moving and inspirational. Grace and blessings came to all of us pilgrims in such abundance! After preaching the Gospel and God’s Word for over 30 years, to be able to stand and be in those “holy” places brought the Word alive and many times I was (we were) overwhelmed with emotions at the reality of simply “being there” where Jesus was (and I believe still is). I will now always remember walking the road to Emmaus alone and seeking to feel his presence with me as I walked in silence. I truly felt he was with me and that made the Gospel account so powerful. As Christ wanted the two on the road to have this private encounter with him, this special moment was “our” moment on the same road. They felt when he appeared to them that he actually needed to “hear the news” of all that had happened. In the end they realized “there was so much more.” This personal encounter was Christ’s gift to them, and again he had to “break the bread” for them to have that awareness that it was truly him.
God sent his son — a gift. Mary (and Joseph) said “yes” to the angel — a gift. Jesus began to call the first Apostles to “come and see” — a gift. He cured, he healed, he fed and he forgave — all gifts. He embraced the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the crucifixion — gifts. He died for our sins to be forgiven — a gift. He was raised from the dead by the Father — a gift. He ascended to heaven and opened the gates that we might one day join him — a gift. Together with his Father, they sent the Holy Spirit to give us that amazing grace to empower us to live as true intentional disciples as we seek to serve him with joy and gladness — a gift.
I believe the true Epiphany comes when we finally accept in our human limitations, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Messiah, and we like John acknowledge his presence in our own journey. Our Epiphany comes when we try to realize how tremendously blessed we are in Jesus. Yes, as the old song says, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” It is then and only then that we, out of gratitude for all he has first done for me, we then strive to offer back to him our “whole” self — the very best of who we are. What is the gift I have to offer back to him? All he wants is the very best of who we are.
People keep asking me, “What is this intentional disciple stuff you all keep talking about?” I believe if we first, like John in Elizabeth’s womb, recognize Jesus for who he really is, and for all the tremendous blessings he sends our way — then being an “intentional disciple” makes all the sense in the world, and I must never settle for less. Bethlehem, Cana, Galilee, the Jordan River, seeing the site of the tree Zacchaeus climbed, Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa, Calvary, the Garden of Gethsemane — going there brought me closer to him in recognizing the gift Jesus chose to be for me and you.
With gratitude, my faith calls forth from me the gift I choose to return to him. “What shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me … ?” Stewardship of time, talent and treasure is a beginning. Discipleship is a way of life I have an option to choose out of gratitude for all he has given me. Daily like Mary visiting Elizabeth, Christ knocks at my door, seeking to find another disciple to “come and see.” Sometimes our Holy Land can simply be at that door, that moment, that opportunity to be his disciple. Get out of the boat, out of today’s culture luring us away, and always strive daily to as be as Matthew Kelly says, “the best version of yourself.” The Lord will leap for joy and then one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the kingdom.” Seek this Epiphany, and be his disciple.