January 4, 2004
Moving things is risky. Whenever we start shifting things around, there is always a chance that something will be misplaced, or broken, or lost. Our parish offices went through a major move this year. They had to be relocated with all of their contents into our new administrative wing. Records and items which had been in storage for years, were carefully repackaged and carried to their new locations. The entire move came off without a hitch. Or at least that is what we thought, until Christmas came. Because as we began to unpack the pieces for our church Nativity scene, we discovered that one figure was missing. Somehow in the move, one of the Magi was either misplaced, or lost, or stolen. We searched everywhere, several times over. But despite every effort, the missing Magi was nowhere to be found. Now a replacement is already on order, but it will take months for delivery. So if you visit the manger scene today on this Feast of Epiphany, the day that we remember the arrival of the three kings, you will notice that one of them has not shown up.
Now this could either be construed as a misfortune or as an opportunity. I choose to see it as an opportunity, an opportunity to ask, “What does it mean to celebrate Epiphany with only two kings? How is the absence of the third king connected with the truth of the gospel?” Here’s my suggestion. An incomplete manger scene might well stand as a symbol for our lives. Because it is true that none of us finish life with all of our pieces intact. Every one of us at one time or another discovers that something we value has been misplaced, or stolen, or lost. Now this is a sadness when it concerns some material thing. But it can truly be a crisis if it is our dreams or our relationships that go awry.
All of us have expectations. Expectations of what a complete life would be. We expect that we will be able to live in faithful commitment to our spouse and our close friends but then discover that our relationships are disrupted by divorce or death. We plan that our family will be harmonious and unified but then are forced to admit that there are resentments between us, because of jealousy and hurt. We imagine that we will be productive in our work and enjoy the leisure of our retirement but find ourselves facing unemployment or sickness. We expect to be successful and to have others hold us in high regard. Yet the mistakes that we make, the addictions that trip us up, reduce the respect that others give to us and make us doubt our own self-worth.
The longer that we live, the more likely it is that something we value will go missing. The more we mature the clearer it becomes that our perfectly imagined life has not been realized. Like an incomplete manger scene, expected pieces of our lives are missing, figures we were counting on do not arrive.
When the enormity of such loss sinks in, it is important to remember what is essential to a manger scene. We have a manger scene, we have Christmas, not because there were Magi or shepherds and sheep or loving parents like Mary and Joseph. We have Christmas because a child was given to us. We have Christmas because of Christ, because he chose to become a part of our humanity and remain with us as Emmanuel, God with us. Therefore, as long as we have Christ, we have Christmas. As long as Christ is present in our lives, we have reason to believe that our lives are good, even if pieces are missing. As long as we know Christ’s love then we can see that the missing parts of our lives, though important, are not essential. If Christ is with us, we can live, we can find the courage to continue.
After mass today, you might want to visit our manger scene. If you do, you will clearly see that one of the kings is missing. Let that king stand for what is missing in your life. For the things you expected to have but do not, for the things you once had and now are lost. Then, as you sense that absence, look in the manger and see that Christ is still here. If Christ is here, then Christmas is here. If Christ is here, then two Magi are enough. If Christ is present in your life, then you have a future. Then there is hope. Then, even though pieces are missing, you still have a life to live.