A Reflection on Epiphany (January 6, 2012)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East, came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at his rising, and have come to pay him homage.”…. When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:9-12, NRSV)
Life is full of surprises. We anticipated a predictable future, whether personal or professional, and discovered that we had to change course to be faithful to God or merely to survive. As singer song-writer Paul Simon avers, “we think we’re gliding down the highway, when, in fact, we’re slip, sliding way.”
We live in a wide open universe in which the future remains undecided for us, the planet, and God. This can be great news, because freedom and creativity allow us to choose our own adventures and discover new worlds right under our noses. But, it can also be frightening when events thwart our plans; when jobs are cut, children become ill, and marriages collapse. Then we have to leave by another road.
The season of Epiphany is about alternative routes to the future. Epiphany celebrates God’s revelation to unexpected people – to magi and shepherds, to outcasts and adversaries – and not necessarily to the elite and powerful. The so-called “1%” is not left out of God’s providential care; but, for once, they don’t have a corner on life’s riches, nor are they immune life’s trials and tribulations. Celebrities, hedge fund managers, and CEO’s may receive news that shatters their world and reminds them of the solidarity and vulnerability of all humankind. Anticipating a rosy future, they discover that they must also go home by another way – perhaps through the hospice, chemo unit, or bedside of a loved one. They may find themselves sitting next to someone they laid off or an impoverished senior citizen as they receive chemotherapy treatments or await news about a child, wife, or parent.
The question Epiphany presents us is, “Are there stars along our pathways as we travel the other, unexpected and sometimes perilous, way?” Over the past month, my little grandson and I have discovered the stars and the moon. In his fifteen month old innocence, he expects the stars to be out whenever he leaves the house. He cries out “stars” or “moon” as I open the door for a walk or to make our way to the car. Slowly, he will learn that only in the darkness can we see the stars and the moon. In the darkness, they light our way homeward, regardless of the way we have chosen or the detours we must take.
Can we discover a star on the unfamiliar path? The magi were “warned in a dream,” that is, they found guidance from a source deeper than the conscious mind. Could it be that we are receiving messages through hunches, insights, dreams, and synchronous events whether in personal or on-line encounters? The magi were open to following a star and to trusting divine guidance to bring them to a strange land and then guide them homeward through new territories, with few signposts.
Epiphany reminds us that all is not lost, despite life’s reversals or word of a life-threatening illness. The message of Epiphany is that we are always receiving guidance, whether in terms of stars that lead us toward the future, encounters on the pathway, or nudges from a place deeper than the conscious mind. On “another road,” we can discover the wisdom we hoped to find on the highways of life, for God’s wise messengers are everywhere and on every pathway.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church to be released in January. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.