We begin the new year reflections with Fr Innocent Nwafor. The fourth priest of Nibo town, Fr Inno Nwafor was ordained in 1991. Over the years he has accompanied many priests and others in their spiritual journey and pilgrimage as a Spiritual Guide: working as Spiritual Director at St. Dominic Savio Seminary, Akpu and Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu. He was a Formator at the Holy Family Spiritual Year Seminary, Okpuno.
He served as the Parish Administrator of St. Catherine’s Parish, Gallspach, Austria and since 2013 the Parish Priest of All Saints Parish, Awgbu.
Fr Inno, as he is fondly called, is a pastoral listener, an admirer of nature’s beauty. He reads and engages in creative writing. Of course, if you would want to see what he does to let the body and spirit be together, then catch him at Tennis lawn.
Fr Martin Anusi
Today’s gospel presents to us the visit of the wise men from the east, called the Magi, to the house of Joseph to pay homage to the new born child – Jesus of Nazareth. This visit caused great panic for Herod, the king of Judah at that time. For the Magi, it was a visit crowned with a great joy. In all of that God is bringing about through the birth of Christ and his revelation to far distant wise men a radical divine turn of events. Christ, the messiah, who revealed himself to the Jews at his birth celebrated at Christmas, reveals himself too to the gentiles represented by the Magi. That is what we celebrate today, the feast of Epiphany. On coming to Jerusalem, the wise men enquired where the child destined to be the messiah was born. King Herod, highly upset at the news of a new born king pretended that he had a desire to see and to pay him homage too. But indeed, he was overwhelmed with fear of losing his throne. This fear led him to massacre innocent babies to hold on to worldly power. But God’s plan is bound to come through.
Context of Matthew’s narative: Matthew’s is a gospel of endings and new beginnings. He offered his Jewish remnants, who fled to Antioch after the massacre of their fellow citizens and destruction of the famous Jerusalem Temple by the roman soldiers in 70 CE reason to see the dawn of a new light filled with hope. The Temple was a symbol of God’s continued presence among them. The evangelist tried to make them realise that in spite of the catastrophic experience they were going through, the birth of Jesus and acceptance of him as the messiah mark the beginning of a divine process filled with hope: “Look darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds veil the peoples, but upon you the Lord now rises, and over you his glory appears” (Is 60: 2). Matthew is reminding his Jewish audience of this and similar prophetic pronouncements. His aim is to let them realise that the prophecy is being fulfilled right before them.
The unfolding of divine plan. The Magi was led to the house where the messiah who is the glory of the Lord took flesh and appears in the child Jesus. Some metaphors used in the episode bring to light this divine process. The glory that left the Temple on the event of its destruction now resides in the person of this child born to be the Messiah of Israel. The gifts the wise men brought – gold, frankincence and myrrh – are precious elements mostly found in Temples. Frankincense and myrrh are among the most important spices used for temple rituals (cf Ex 30: 34; Lev 2:2,16). The two are no less costly than gold, the first gift, used for Temple vessels. With these highly aromatic spices and gold the Magi bent down and worshipped the child Messiah. The Magi coming from the east is highly significant too. East is the direction of the rising of the sun, the direction of new beginning. It is symbolic of hope that is rising in the midst of darkness. In this way, Matthew is symbolically transferring the components of the old physical Temple to the infant Jesus who is the Messiah. This messiah is born with something new. He is destined to bring about a new inner Temple; for in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 1:19). That temple would henceforth reside in the heart of all those who become incorporated in him through baptism; irrespective of race, colour or religion. He is a symbol of peace between nations for in him the walls of division are destroyed. In him God is creating one new people, reconciled with him in the one body through the cross (cf Eph 2: 15f). The Magi brought also something new. Their gesture taught that the child is to be worshipped and adored. He is God with us. They represent the first of many characters to worship Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. Thus, the attribution of worship to Jesus here and elsewhere in Matthew has Christological significance, marking Jesus as the one in whom God is present (1:23; 2:11; compare 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17). The star that led them to the new born king has also deeper meaning. A Greek belief of the time had it that each person receives a star at birth that serves as a guiding spirit, comparable to guardian angel of our Christian belief.
Lesson for us. The star that led the magi to the place of his birth stands for the new spirit that should be guiding us who are baptised in Christ, especially in the face of difficulties, confusion and tribulations. Are there temples built over the years – things we have placed great trust in that are disappointing us? Is our business crumbling, do we suffer sudden loss of trusted one? The birth of Jesus, our trust in him is capable of doing something new in our life. In the face of many emerging new forms of religiosity, crusades, and street preachers with megaphones, night vigils in which no neighbourhood has a right to sleep, billboards forcing the attention of every passersby to take note of extraordinary healing ministration. Have we still the calmness of heart to see the “kindly light that leads us amidst the encircling gloom into the way of peace? In both Igbo and Christian religious sense we have chioma, or guardian angel as the one who directs and shows us what God wants of us as well as protecting us in times of danger if we do not revolt against him. Re-establishing a living relationship with him is what is needed to lead us to Jesus who is waiting for us in the inner Temple of our heart. The need to listen to an inner voice that directs us in life has to be rediscovered. The word “disaster” comes from “dis-star” meaning to be separated from one’s star, from one’s inner guarding spirit. Onye bulu chi ya uzo, o gbagbuo onwe ya n’oso.
God is always doing something new in our lives. Where are we experiencing change in our life?; perhaps painful ones. Could it not be part of a divine but hidden process for something new, something full of hope? If we could be still we could sense God reaching out to embrace us in new ways. Then our worship of him in prayer and in loving appreciation of what He is doing in our fellow human beings will fill us with peace and joy.