Better late than never.
Now that we’ve made it to Epiphany, the Wise Men in all your homes can finally “arrive” at the manger. Here at Epiphany, you can see that ours have managed to make it – we’re quite proud of them. Historically speaking, we don’t really know who the Wise Men were, although tradition gives them the names of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They came from a priestly class of people called the Magi who came from the area around what was called Persia in modern day Iran. They had a number of functions such as maintaining the eternal flames of the Persian emperors and performing ritual sacrifices of horses. The flame was a symbol of the near-eastern gods and the horses were the basis of military power at the time. They were highly valued animals that could make or break an empire. The Magi also served as astronomers and were experts at reading the stars in the sky. They knew when eclipses were going to happen and how to track the path of Venus through the night sky. So, in addition to being priests and philosophers, they were also scientists. Maybe we begin to understand why they were called “Wise.”
These Wise Men saw signs appear in the night sky on the night Our Lord was born. They saw that the planet Jupiter, the king planet, drifted through the constellation Virgo and how she seemed to be pregnant with child. Now, as Christians, we don’t believe in astrology because we know that our fate is ours alone through God-given free will, but these signs nevertheless spurred the Magi to a great journey. They prophesied that a great king was born and they set out to find him. We think that it took about two years to make their way to Judea, and once there they sought out Herod, who was the local ruler. They asked him to see the new king. This, of course, sent Herod into a fit of rage. After all, he was the king! So the Magi continued searching and eventually found Our Lord, and there they gave him gifts and worshipped him.
They did not, however, find him surrounded by shepherds and angels in Bethlehem. They found him about two years after his birth in his home in Nazareth. This is why in the Church we celebrate Epiphany at the very end of the twelve days of Christmas and not on Christmas day itself. The wise men were very late.
This makes me wonder about all of ways in which we are often late to find Jesus – The times we ignore him, or are too afraid to do what he asks of us, or have sins that weigh heavy on our hearts and so keep putting off going to confession until it’s so embarrassing that we find it too daunting to ever go again. If you feel this way, I understand. In my life, I have often failed to find Jesus in a timely fashion. I have made many mistakes and missteps along the way, and often when I finally find my way to where God wants me to be it is amazing it took so long.
Has anyone ever had a phone call, an email, or a letter from a friend and you’ve been meaning to get back to them, but before you know it months have gone past? And by then it has been so long that you’re embarrassed to respond? I honestly think that people disappear from our lives for this very reason, the principle being that it is better to never respond again than to be so horribly late. Better never than late doesn’t sound like such a good motto, though.
Perhaps this morning some of you are thinking about all the dreams, ambitions, and hopes you had for the past year that are yet to be fulfilled, whether those are spiritual goals or otherwise. Or maybe you’ve been so distracted and busy that the new year slipped past without notice. It kind of seems too late now to reflect on the past and make a resolution for the future, and it can be tempting to simply forget about those past dreams. But even if past commitments are yet to be followed through on, don’t give up – it really is better to be late than never.
At Epiphany, God reveals himself to the Wise Men. It wasn’t too late for them to find the true God of the universe. If Herod, even after slaughtering the innocents and shedding blood to maintain power, had humbled himself and worshipped Our Lord, it would not have been too late for him. It is never too late for you and me, either. Not too late to go to confession, not too late to repair broken relationships, or achieve spiritual goals, or make personal changes, or finally respond to that prompting of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
St. Augustine, one of the most influential Christian thinkers of all time, came to faith very late, and he often chastised himself for waiting so long, saying, “Late have a loved thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.” For Augustine, God had been there the whole time, waiting for him, and when he finally turned to God, he described it as his bonds being burst asunder. Suddenly, he was free.
Whatever is on your mind as you face the new year, don’t let anything hold you back. God is waiting for you, and he doesn’t care at all how long it has been or how many times you stumble along the way, he simply wants to embrace you and love you. There is never a better time for you than right now.
O God, reveal yourself to us and help us to find you.