From The Connections:

The Magi at 40,000 feet
On Christmas morning, a single mom and her two sons, ages 14 and 12, boarded a plane in Atlanta.  They were heading to San Diego to spend Christmas with friends.
Another single mother boarded the same flight, wrangling two small boys, ages 2 and 3.  The older boy was wearing a ”halo” neck brace to immobilize his head and spine.  They took their seats two rows behind the first family.  The younger child sat on her lap, and the boy in the halo took the middle seat — next to a man with a look of unmitigated dread.  Both toddlers immediately started screaming.  The boy in the halo wanted no part of the seat belt and the other didn’t want to sit on his mother’s lap. 
The first mom knew what the toddlers’ mom was going through.  Once the plane was in the air, she got up and offered her seat to the ashen-faced man near the window.  He looked spectacularly relieved.  She took his place and offered the mom an extra pair of hands.  For the next four hours she read Dr. Seuss, walked up and down the aisle with the boys, amused them with hand puppets, changed diapers, doled out Goldfish crackers and bottles.
During the last hour of the flight, both children were asleep, and the two moms had a chance to talk.  The second mom asked the first mom about her sons’ father.   She told her about the divorce and a new relationship that was faltering. 
“And your sons: where is their father?” she asked gingerly.
The toddlers’ mom spoke softly:  “Six months ago, my husband was killed in a car accident.  I was at home with the baby, and my older son” — she pointed to the three-year-old with the halo — “was airlifted in critical condition from the scene.  He had a broken neck and severe internal injuries.  It was touch and go for a while.  He still has a ways to go.”
She went on to explain that she was on leave from Delta and was now trying to sort out the next moves for her and her boys.  For now, she was taking them to see her family in California.  
She smiled wistfully.  “You never know how quickly life can change.  The life you plan . . . ”  Her voice trailed off as she smiled at the sleeping child in her lap.
The first mom writes of that Christmas:  “I had intended to be the generous one that morning.  My gift to her was an extra pair of hands to wrangle spirited toddlers trapped on a plane.  But her gift to me was of the Magi order.  It was the gift of perspective, of being able to step back and appreciate what I have, however frustrating . . . thanks to that stranger on a plane, I discovered I had more patience and appreciation in me.”
[From “The Magi at 40,000 feet” by Laura Wilkinson Sinton, The New York Times, December 22, 2011.]
On our individual journeys through this life, we discover “stars” that help us find our way; we meet “magi” whose wisdom and grace help us discern our course; we realize the gift of God’s presence in the Bethlehem of our own hearts.  Every one of our lives is a continuing “epiphany” — a journey of discovery, of growing in wisdom and grace, of finding God.  Like the magi’s search for the Messiah-king, like the meeting of the two moms on a 757 one Christmas morning, our own everyday odyssey is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that, often unnoticed and unappreciated, are part of every human experience.  The Gospel of the Epiphany challenges us to fix our journey on the “star” that leads us to embrace a perspective of gratitude and humility that leads us to find the love of God in our midst.  
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Returning from exile the deported Jews have set out on a journey to Jerusalem, a Jerusalem lit by the multiple candles of the rebuilt temple. The prophet looks beyond Jerusalem, to a city beyond this, not to the earthly city but one that the Lord will build, to which all people are welcome to journey. This city will be the city of the kingdom of God built on faith. Already the prophet believes that all kinds of people from all over the world, from every tribe and nation are on the move towards this heavenly Jerusalem.

The Quest
Once upon a time, in a far off land deep in shadow, there lived two orphans who were very unhappy living in shadowland. One day they decided to leave their homeland and journey beyond the grey mountains until they would come face to face with the light that makes colours. So while the rest of the country was fast asleep in their grey beds, they packed their few belongings in a knapsack and set off on their quest to discover the light and bring it back to shadowland. – Most of the stories we remember from our own childhood are stories of quests where the hero leaves the world of the familiar and sets out for an unknown country in search of something special or someone special. Many of our great religious stories follow the same pattern. Does our faith journey lead us on such a quest?
- Denis McBride in ‘Seasons of the Word’
In the second reading Paul reminds his readers in Ephesus that there is no longer any privileged place nor any holy city necessary for our journey to the Lord. All people are invited and all people can come and experience the Lord without any pre conditions to be fulfilled. His revelation is the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers, through the preaching of the gospel. All are called to journey together to show the unity of the Body of Christ. Jews and gentiles are all part of the one Body of Christ. In today’s Gospel Matthew tells the classic story of the arrival of some strangers in Jerusalem. They are called ‘Magi’ which is variously translated as astrologers, magicians, wise men. Mathew contrasts the Magi who follow natural means- the star, against the wise men of Judea who are able to follow their own sign – the scriptures. They have enough information from their scriptures to discover where the new king will be born, but they are not ready to act upon this knowledge which has been revealed in the scriptures. By contrast the wise strangers from the East traveled from distant places, taking risks in following a star and journeying in faith and hope. They are willing to be instructed in a scripture foreign to them and are rewarded by their discovery of the new-born king. “How wonderfully God adapts his Christmas message to the capacity of his hearers! For the shepherd he uses a manger; for the Magi, a star; for the learned scribes, scripture; for Herod, the wise men from the East. The wise men symbolize for us the countless multitudes long-exiled from paradise yet retaining some lingering, undefined nostalgia for it. How many had this presentment about the King of the Jews, born under a luck star? Only the Magi undertook the journey and followed it through to the end.” Bible Missal

When pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made their historic flight in 1986 with their spindly Voyager aircraft, the whole world followed it with excitement. For nine days a sky-watch was kept tracking their first non-stop global flight without refueling. Achievers and risk-takers like Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager have always fascinated us. Marco Polo journeying to India and China, Christopher Columbus coming to America, Admiral Byrd going to the South Pole, our Astronauts flying to the moon: such adventurers have always aroused our admiration and our skepticism. – It was no different at the time of the Magi in today’s gospel story. To the cynical observer the Magi must have seemed foolish to go following a star. These astrologers had to be a little crazy leaving the security of their homeland to venture forth into a strange country presided by a madman like Herod. Nevertheless, to the person with the eyes of faith, the Magi had discovered an immense secret. They found not only the secret of the star, but the secret of the whole universe –the secret of God’s incredible love for his people. For the child they found was no ordinary child but the very Son of God become man.
- Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
After the Magi found the babe in the manger and offered their gifts they were ready to return home but were warned not to go back by the way they came but to return by a different way. This suggests not just a new geographical route but a new mentality. This little detail perhaps has a significance all its own. All are invited to discover God through the different journeys in faith that they undertake. But after encountering God we cannot be the same, we cannot return to our old ways. The encounter has to change us. It is impossible to encounter Christ without it affecting the way we live our lives.

Star of Bethlehem
Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by a bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day 1987. Instead of calling for revenge, he forgave her killers and began a campaign for peace and reconciliation. He said: “I am a very ordinary sort of man. I have few personal ambitions and no political aspirations. I just want to live and let live. Life has been kind to me in the main, and I have tried to live by the Good Book. I do not profess to be a good man, but I aim to be. I would like to leave the world a better place than I found it, but I have no exaggerated ideas of my ability to do so. I have hitched my wagon to a star, a star of hope, the star of Bethlehem.”
- Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

1. I want to start this morning by taking a short poll. First: How many of you still have your Christmas Tree up? Second: What do you have on the top of your Christmas tree, a star or an angel. How many of you have stars on top of your tree? How many of you have angels?

The reason I asked the first question is: Christmas, from the Christian perspective isn't truly over until January 6th or Epiphany, the day we traditionally celebrate the visit by the Wise Men. The reason I asked the second question is: I think there are two types of people. Some are star people and some are angel people.  

Biblically, the Angel represents those who had been waiting for the Messiah, for a sign from God, for a long time, like the Shepherds. They knew what the Angel meant when he told them about a Savior, a Messiah. They remembered the old prophecies. They remembered with anticipation.

And the Star was for those who were still searching, those still unsure, those still with questions, those on a quest to find out about this mystery and message from God wrapped up in human flesh and swaddling clothes.

A friend reminded me that God sent both the Angel and the Star because God always meets us where we are... 

Never leave dry dog food or cat food outside overnight. If you do, chances are that sooner or later something other than your furry family member will amble up to help themselves. 
One of the most startling creatures to belly-up to the kibble buffet is the opossum. 'Possums aren't particularly dangerous to humans (unless they are rabid). But they have mastered the art of looking scary. Flick on the porch light and catch a possum snout down in the dog's bowl and you will be rewarded with glowing red eyes, snarling sharp teeth, grisly growling, and a horrible hissing sound. Not to mention the fact that a possum looks a whole lot like a huge, giant rat. It's actually a marsupial, more related to a kangaroo or a koala bear. Opossums are to koala bears what raccoons are to red panda bears. But after one nighttime encounter with a startled opossum, you'll think "Rat."  

But if you step slowly outside to confront the critter, instead of rushing it and leaving it feeling cornered, the possum is far more likely to suddenly shift from scary to supine. The phrase, "playing possum" comes from the very real defensive technique possum's employ when they are confronted by a larger opponent. They fall over, go stiff, and for all the world, look as dead as a doornail. The possum's strategy is that if they look like they are dead and gone, then their enemy will give them a sniff or two and then leave them there to rot. When the danger - whether a person, a dog, a cat, or a car - has passed, the possum miraculously comes back to life and trundles off - after finishing the remainder of Fido's food, of course.

"Playing possum" is a trait human's have mastered as well... 
2. Where Are You Looking for God?

We begin with a story from a collection of the lives of saints - the saints of Islam - which concerns a king of Balkh (now northern Afghanistan), named Ebrahim ibn Adam. Ebrahim was wealthy according to every earthly measure. At the same time, however, he sincerely and restlessly strove to be wealthy spiritually as well.
"One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: 'Who's there?' 'A friend,' came the reply from the roof. 'I've lost my camel.' Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: 'You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?' 'You fool!' the voice from the roof answered. 'Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?' The story goes on, according to Jesuit theologian Walter G. Burghardt, to tell how these simple words filled the king with such terror that he arose from his sleep to become a most remarkable saint (Still Proclaiming your Wonders: Homilies for the Eighties [New York: Paulist Press, 1984], 55).

The camel on the roof raises the Epiphany question, Where are you looking for God? This compelling question of life properly stands at the beginning of a new year, just as Where have you found God? nicely serves as a question to cap a year's closing.

Leonard Sweet 
3. The Parable of the Birds

Do you remember Louis Cassels' famous parable of the birds? It was Christmas Eve and the man's wife and children were getting ready to go to church. He wasn't going. "I simply can't understand what Christmas is all about, this claim that God became man," he told his wife.

It had been snowing all day and it was beginning to snow harder as the man's family rode off to church without him. He drew a chair up to the fireplace and began to read his newspaper.

A few minutes later, there was a thudding sound at the kitchen window. When he went to investigate, he found a flock of birds out in the back yard. They had been caught in the storm, and in a desperate search for shelter, were trying to fly through the kitchen window. He was a very kind man so he tried to think of something he could do so the birds wouldn't freeze. "The barn!" he thought. That would be a nice shelter.

He put on his coat and overshoes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn and opened the door wide and turned on the light. But the birds didn't come in. Food will bring them in he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail to the barn.

But the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around waving his arms. They scattered in every direction except into the warm, lighted barn. "They find me a strange and terrifying creature," he said to himself, "and I can't seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me."
Puzzled and dismayed, he pondered this thought, "If only I could be a bird myself for the moment, perhaps I could lead them to safety." If only I could be a bird myself . . .
Just then the church bells began to ring, pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. The man stood silently for a minute, then sank to his knees in the snow.
"Now I understand," he whispered as he lifted his gaze to the sky. "Now I see why You had to become man."

 Louis Cassels, The Parable of the Birds
4. How Do We Hold onto the Feeling? 

Just a few days later, the needles are falling, the poinsettias are drooping, and the cookies are stale. How do we hold onto the feeling? How do we hold onto the warmth, the wonder, the welcome of Christmas?

* Christmas letters - offering graceful glimpses of old friends;
* That rare mother/daughter afternoon, creating the most perfect Christmas of our lives;
* American soldiers sharing Christmas with war-scarred children;
* Virginia neighbors sharing love with a Pentagon widow;
* A Christmas pageant, so full of joy and giggles and energy, that I know God was smiling;
* A rippling harp lifting human voices to heaven;
* That sea of candles, shimmering with hope and memory, in the dark womb of this sanctuary.

Yes, my friends, if we try, we can hold onto the feelings, the images, the memories. But we will need to struggle to let this fresh incarnation, this tangible, touchable God carry us through the rest of the year. For the way things really are has already come crashing down upon us. This morning, before the baby has even digested his first decent meal, the gospel writer has us running - fleeing from danger and death and despair. Yes, Matthew forces us to deal with the rest of the Christmas story. And the reality is that the incarnation of good, of God, leads quickly to the incarnation of evil - not only 2,000 years ago, but today, here, now. 

Susan R. Andrews 
 5. Letting Go of Treasures 

Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. That something is it destroys the demon, greed."
Richard Foster
 6. As Long As There Is Hope

A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University carried on an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container they made the hope of escape a possibility for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally giving up. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of our common conclusion. We usually say, "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Duke experiment proved, "As long as there is hope, there is life."

Brett Blair

7. A Legend of the Magi and the True Story 

There is a beautiful old tradition about the star in the East. The story says that when the star had finished its task of directing the wise men to the baby, it fell from the sky and dropped down into the city well of Bethlehem. According to some legend, that star is there to this day, and can sometimes still be seen by those whose hearts are pure and clean. It's a pretty story. It kind of makes you feel warm inside.

There are other legends about this story of the wise men from the east. For instance, how many wise men were there? In the old days in the east, they believed that there were 12 men who made the journey, but now most everyone agrees there were three. One old legend even tells us the names of the three. Melchior was the oldest of the group, with a full beard. He gave the baby the gift of gold. Balthasar also had a beard, but was not as old as Melchior. He presented the gift of myrrh. The youngest of the three was Casper, who had no beard yet, but did present the gift of frankincense to the baby. Yet another legend goes on to tell us that after seeing the baby, the three continued traveling as far as Spain, telling the world the good news about what they had seen. These stories bring the wise men a little more to life, and add some color to the meaning of Christmas. They can also get in the way.

The problem with legends is that sometimes they add color to stories that don't need any additional color. In fact, sometimes legends are so colorful, they are unbelievable, and can end up making the entire story unbelievable as well. Kind of like that star falling in the well. It makes you warm inside. It also makes you wonder.

I am not out to ban legends, but I do think it might be worthwhile to hear the story one more time, the way it was told the first time. I need to hear it anyway, and you are welcome to listen along if you like.

 John B. Jamison
8. Do It Anyway!

Herod was a power-hungry ruler whose actions reeked of evil. We can't explain his actions, or the actions of anybody else who acts in evil ways.

And despite our best efforts to create an atmosphere of cooperation and kindness, it is unrealistic to think we are going to eliminate from the face of the earth divisive, rude, evil people. Our only choice, unless we want to give in or give up, is to work around the evil. Yes, this is an imperfect world, but that does not relieve us of our responsibility to work for what is good and right. If anything, the evil present in our world only accentuates the need for us to do something.
Someone wrote a short piece about rejecting the nay-sayers and taking the higher road. They titled it "Anyway." Here it is:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway!
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway!
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway!
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway!
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds. Think big anyway!
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for some underdogs anyway!
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway!
People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway!
Give the world the best you have and you will get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have any way!
9. “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” Little Amy was looking through the family album and found a picture of a man sitting behind a cow. All that was visible was the man’s legs and feet. When her photographer uncle who owned a photo studio came to visit her mother, Amy told him, “This is the only picture of my grandfather that we have. So please remove the cow so that I may see what he looked like." It is the same curiosity which led the magi to follow the star of Bethlehem.  A survey was made among school children asking why they enjoyed reading Harry Potter novels and watching Harry Potter movies. The most common answer was, “Because you never know what’s going to happen next.” The same element of suspense marked the journey of the Magi, who never knew what road the Spirit was going to take them down next. Today’s readings invite us to have the curiosity of Amy and the school students so that we may discover the ‘epiphany’ of our God in everyone and every event, everywhere.
10.  An epiphany in the airport. We spot what looks like a mom, a dad, and three teenage daughters. The girls and their mom are each holding a bouquet of roses. We are wondering what the story is. Whom are they expecting? The dad keeps looking at his watch. The mom keeps turning her head to make sure she hears each airport announcement. Finally the door opens. First come the "rushers"--men and women in suits with briefcases and bags over their shoulders, rushing towards phones, bathrooms, and their cars or rent-a-cars. We're still wondering and watching to learn whom this family we've been studying is there to meet. Then out come a young Marine, his wife, and their obviously brand-new baby. The three girls run to the couple and the baby. Then Mom. Dad. Hugs. Kisses. Embraces. "OOPS! The flowers!" But the baby is the center of attention. Each member of the family gets closer and closer to the mother and each opens the bundle in pink to have a first peek at this new life on the planet. We're seeing it from a distance. It's better than the evening news. Then we notice several other smiling people also watching the same scene. There are many other hugging scenes, people meeting people, but this is the big one. We're smiling too. A tear of joy. What wonderful moment we are photographing into our memory. We're thinking, "Family! Children! Grandchildren!" This is what life is all about. We're experiencing an epiphany. Life is filled with them. Praise God! 
11. The Sunday school teacher asked the first graders, "What gifts did the
wise men bring the Christ Child?" A smart boy replied, "Uh, gold,
Frankenstein and mermaids." "What did the two-year old child Jesus say to the Magi?" Another boy said: "That big animal, that's what I want! I want that camel!"
12: A little girl and her mother were looking at the Nativity scene. The mother was explaining that the Wise Men were presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn King. The little girl looked in great adoration at the babe in the manger, then turning to her mother, thoughtfully asked, "Why didn’t they bring Him a bed.?"