In a movie not long ago, a guy lived by himself and was happy as long as he was left alone. He put up signs to warn people to stay away, and when they didn’t, he scared them away. One day he picked up an obnoxious companion whom he could barely tolerate, and the next day his house was invaded by a deluge of refugees. He went to city hall, so to speak, to get sole possession of his property back and was sent to do an errand for someone else in order to get what he wanted. But at the end of the movie, Shrek found happiness where he didn’t expect it, in a way he didn’t expect it.
Shrek wanted his swamp back, and it took a lot of manipulation and political dealing in order to get what he wanted. In order to get what he wanted he had to undertake a quest to rescue a beautiful princess for Lord Farquaar, but his trip took him into many places he didn’t expect to go. Not only did he rescue the princess, he found out what was important in life, and that he was someone who had value, even though he was an ogre.
The wise men traveled to Jerusalem knowing what they were looking for and what they wanted. They knew that the birth of this new king was the most important thing happening, and if you’re looking for a new king where would you look? If you said in the palace of the old king, you’d be right. Princes are born in royal families: if you find the king, you’ll find the newborn crown prince. But Herod had an answer they didn’t expect. He wasn’t looking for them any more than Lord Farquaar was looking for an ogre to visit, and when he heard what they were up to he gave them a bit of misdirection. “Sure, go find this king, let me know and I’ll come around to honor him, too.” Herod was playing with them, and they rightly recognized that a new born king outside the palace was a threat to the king who lived in the palace. So they went to the experts and found out where the promised one was to be born: they were good scholars and did their research. The scribes told the visitors what they wanted to know and didn’t worry too much about what the content was: librarians usually don’t care what you’re looking up, just that you find it. The wise men go to Bethlehem led by a star, find the child and realize what’s going on. That’s what’s behind the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh: they’re gifts given to a god, not a king, and definitely not gifts Herod would get.
Maybe the wise men didn’t start out knowing what they were going to find. They found something unexpected, and that made all the difference. They found Jesus the Christ, the son of God. Being wise they didn’t visit Herod again, since that would undoubtedly be the end of their journey. We don’t know for certain what happened to them after they got home, but they didn’t go out looking for a child again.
As we go through life, we look for many things. We look for company or privacy, we look for money or a good set of wheels or good health or many other things. The main thing we usually look for in life is happiness, and that’s not something we can find directly. Money can’t buy it, although some folks say that money can rent it for a while.
Wise men from antiquity knew how to seek happiness. Aristotle said it, and St. Thomas Aquinas repeated it: happiness is something that we find only when we go looking for something else. For Shrek, it was looking for a way to have his swamp to himself again. His journey lead him to happiness without him even being aware of it. For Aristotle and Aquinas it is virtue; for the wise men it was a child in a manger. We are called to look for happiness through similar means, by looking for someone outside ourselves.
We look for Jesus in our lives to be happy. We live the life of faith, follow Christ’s example, in order to for God to fill us with his love. We can find happiness there beyond anything we could find for ourselves. We look for God in many places, and perhaps one the best ways to find God is in one another. Virtue trains us to care for one another, to find our happiness in God through one another. Where do we start this pilgrimage, where is the star that guides us?
The place we start is the Eucharist. The start of our search is sharing a meal. We gather to share the Body and Blood of Christ in order to be able to love one another better, in order to offer our gifts to one another more easily just as the Wise men offered their gifts. We work on our perspective here, just as Shrek had to work on his, so we can realize where our happiness lies beneath the surface of something that isn’t very lovely. Our journey to God, our journey to our happiness starts here, and who knows where it will go?