January 8, 2012

When [the Magi] saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Matthew 2.10

When Herod realized he had been outwitted

by the Magi he was furious.

Matthew 2.16

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany; in many countries it is the day for Christmas gift giving, in honor of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus. But the story of Epiphany has, as its central figure not the baby Jesus, nor his mother Mary or Joseph. This Feast of light, focuses on the dark figure of the a King, named Herod.

History calls him Herod the Great.  History, in fact, tells us a lot about Herod, perhaps more than any other figure in the Bible.  And most of what we know is not all that great. But for purposes of this discussion we could simply say, he wasn’t a very happy guy.  Scripture tells us, and I love this verse:

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed,

and all Jerusalem with him.

Matthew 2.3

Can’t you just imagine that scene?  He was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. I was a big “Sopranos” fan and when Tony Soprano was unhappy, everyone in Newark, New Jersey knew it.  I just picture Herod as an ancient Tony Soprano, on a rampage because he’s unhappy. It’s interesting how unhappy people will always go out of their way to make other people unhappy too.

OK, now look at the other principle figures in the story: the Magi; Magi were probably astrologers from Persia.  Scripture tells us they’re so happy they’re overjoyed.

The king, who has everything, is unhappy, the Magi who are lost and far from home, are happy, what’s the difference and what’s the secret?

Well, we know that happiness isn’t just about getting what we want or filling urges and satisfying appetites. It is not just about being large and in charge. We know there is more to it than that, or people like Herod would be happy.  And they’re usually not.

We instinctively know, and see evidence all the time of a more amorphous, a less starkly defined path to happiness, like the one taken by the Magi. Think about their path: it was filled with wrong turns, doubt and danger, and bad people who were trying to hurt them. And they were happy.  Overjoyed in fact.  Why?

I think when it comes to happiness, we operate off a basic misconception. We think we can find it. We can’t.

The Magi made one mistake, they thought they could find the child. They couldn’t. They saw his star at its rising and knew it was an important event, and they took off.  But they didn’t find the child. The only thing they found was themselves hopelessly, dangerously lost.

We can’t find happiness.

The Magi didn’t find the child.

Listen again to what Matthew tells us:

The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them

until it stopped over the place where the child was.

Matthew 2.9

The Magi didn’t find the child, they were led to the child. What the Magi did was place themselves in the right position to be led to the child. We put into practice the right disciplines, the right attitudes, the right ways of thinking and happiness will come about as a result. We identify the ways in which God has taught us to live and set off in that direction and happiness is the destination, the inevitable outcome.

Happiness comes from how we live our lives and invest our hearts, minds, soul and strength in the right things, the things of lasting value and true worth. Happiness is what that investment, that discipline feels like.

Today we begin a new 6-week series all about happiness. Join us for this journey:

  • live at any of our 5 weekend services: Saturdays at 5pm, Sundays at 9 & 10:30am, 12n and 5:30pm
  • live online at 10:30am and 5:30pm @
  • or, take a look at the Sunday message anytime starting Mondays at noon: just go to, click “messages,” then click “watch a message.”

Join us for this journey as we look at the disciplines, habits and thinking that reliably bring us a happier life.

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  1. Fr. Michael: Not only do you have a gift for speaking to the hearts and minds of your parishioners each and every week, you also possess the sense of perfect timing. How appropriate to begin the New Year with rules for true happiness which, if followed, will lead to a prosperous year ahead. In your homily, you spoke of the new psychology – positive psychology. The book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., speaks to the power of people’s beliefs and the profound effects of the mindset; a fixed versus a growth mindset will make all the difference in fulfilling our potential (and I would daresay even in our desire to grow spiritually) . I know you can take this concept of the fixed versus growth mindset and relate it to Scripture, your messages, and your amazing ability to connect to us all (even if you haven’t even met us). Thank you.

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