Traditionally, today — January 6 — is the date for the feast of the Epiphany, though we celebrated it on Sunday. Very early this morning I sat in my parish church. It was dark, inside and out, and the rain lashed against the stained glass windows. Just the crèche was lit, the infant with arms outstretched and three kings on bended knee, their gifts in hand. Gold robes, glittering gifts, a holy child. Christ, made manifest to the nations. There was no mistaking the message. Come, let us adore Him.
The wise ones followed a star to find this child who would be a king. The refrain to the familiar hymn notwithstanding, this star of wonder was more than a guide to “thy perfect Light.”
Father of the Church John Chrysostom, in a homily on the Gospel of Matthew, says the wise men needed the star to see Jesus for who he was, “for there was nothing conspicuous about the place. The inn was ordinary. The mother was not celebrated or notable.”
Well before dawn this morning, I knelt down before another infant. No glittering star above, just the dim glow of the Acme sign across the street to show me the way as I chased down an escaping babe intent on exploring the dark hallway outside his mother’s room at the shelter. I hefted him on my hip and with his older brother wondered at the lights of the trucks making their deliveries in the darkness, while their mother packed her lunch, and gathered their things for the day — they will not return until dinner.
As they head out the door, I hand his mother a new thermos, filled with coffee. In the face of all that she needs for her children and herself, it is perhaps as impractical as gold, frankincense and myrrh were to Mary. And I cringe to think that it was instant coffee, though that’s all there was in the small pantry. But as imperfect and impractical as they were, these were the gifts I could give her this morning, the gifts of company and care — and coffee.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis reminds us that, “Realities are greater than ideas. This principle has to do with incarnation of the word and its being put into practice … this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful.”
On this 12th day of Christmas, can I remember to look for the stars that let me see Christ in the ordinary places? Can I pray for the grace to realistically put the word I hear into practice where God has placed me? Not lamenting what I do not have to offer, not dreaming of far off lands, but breaking open what I do have to share. Here. Now. In this place.
There is nothing conspicuous about this place. It is an ordinary school hallway. You would not notice the mothers in line at the grocery store. But make no mistake about it, I have seen Christ by the light of the Acme, and laid real gifts at His feet.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.