Monday, January 02, 2012
“Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)
January 8, 2012
The Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
I’ve seen lots of them lately – those bumper stickers that say “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.” While the warning is surely humorous, it’s also very sobering, at least for me, as I trail cars displaying the warning when I’m going to or coming from the hospital. I’ve visited more than a few drivers who were intent on meeting Jesus. I’ve blessed the bodies of too many who actually did.
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But that white bicycle chained to a post at the underpass speaks even more forcefully. Besides the “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers, I regularly drive past this somber reminder that meetings with Jesus often come suddenly and violently. It was thus for Jose Perez who was killed on August 3, 2006 while riding his bicycle on Quay Street near its intersection with Broadway in downtown Albany. While I don’t know whether it was Jose or the driver of the car who was at fault, I guess it really doesn’t matter. A life was lost.
When I first drove by that white bicycle a few years back, I didn’t know what it meant, so I stopped at the curb for a closer inspection. I saw the hand-lettered plaque with date underneath and then realized that it was both a memorial and a warning. Pray for Jose, it pleaded. And don’t let this happen to you.
Bumper stickers, phantom bicycles, and those roadside crosses at accident sites – it seems there are warnings everywhere. They shout to us: Do you want to save your life? Then look up! Pay attention! Put aside diversions! Indeed, it’s so easy to forget that the road toward home is treacherous, the life-long journey requiring every bit of attention. But when one becomes attuned to the signs along the way, a safer trip is more likely.
In the gospel passage we hear today, the mysterious call of a bright star captured the attention of three wise men. Beckoned to follow its lead, they were provided no destination – just trust the star to bring you to a wondrous place. As St. Matthew puts it, “Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:1-2) These men from the east seemed to know intuitively that even as this star would lead them to the newborn king, so was it leading them to newborn life for themselves. And not only did they find the Son of God, they also found the image of the divine within themselves. In discovering the newborn king, they discovered that they were beloved heirs of his Eternal Kingdom.
Truly, we are spiritual descendants of those Magi from the East. We yet seek what they have already found – God in our midst. And isn’t this quest our noblest pursuit? But even when we do catch a fleeting glimpse of the Divine Presence, isn’t it then the challenge to hear his voice through the cacophony of our day? And even when we can silence the distractions to hear his voice, isn’t the very hardest challenge to respond? Indeed, God promises no easy passage – just the promise that he will be right at our side all the way.
But on those overcast nights when Bethlehem’s star is hidden from view – what do we do then? While we know its guidance is up there somewhere, it’s then that we must seek its reflection in those who mysteriously seem to draw us into an awareness of God’s presence. And it’s not that these people are necessarily glimmering lights themselves. Rather, it’s that God has chosen them to be the earthly guardians of his divine reflection.
Over the past several years, I’ve found Shawn to be just such a guardian of God’s reflection. About 40, married and with several children, he has been a night nurse in our hospital’s Emergency Department for a while now. We’d often meet in the ER before dawn many mornings, and invariably he’d stop to chat – about the challenge of the patients he’d cared for during the night, or his struggle to be a firm and loving dad to his kids, or his terror-tinged excitement about the upcoming Mid-East excursion with his military reserve unit. In fact, Shawn has served on several military missions to war-torn countries, his nursing skills assisting in the air transfer of wounded soldiers to military hospitals.
But what do I see besides a dedicated nurse, a devoted husband and a loving father? I see a man striving to be the very best, a man whose vision is fixed on some faraway ideal. I have a suspicion that Shawn sees the star that led those Magi from the East to Bethlehem.
Returning from a recent military excursion with his unit, Shawn discovered a job opportunity that would allow him to spend more time with his wife and kids. These days, Shawn’s a flight nurse with LifeNet, one of the helicopter services that regularly whisks patients from distant accident sites to our hospital. I still run into him in the ER but not as often as before. In mid-November we had a few moments to chat after he’d delivered a motorcycle accident victim to the hospital. Beaming as he approached, I asked how he’d been since last I saw him. “I get to be with my wife and kids a lot more now,” he said. “And I spend lots of time up in the air. I’m closer to God than you are!”
As duty called him back into the air for another urgent medical transport, I yelled after him, “Shawn, say hi to Jesus for me!” A thumbs-up told me he’d do it.
The signs are everywhere: bumper stickers, ghost bicycles, roadside crosses. But mostly it’s those people who are the quiet guardians of God’s reflection. They seem to shout: Look up! Pay attention! Claim life beyond imagining!