The Journey of A Lifetime
The first reading today harkens back to the beautiful promises we heard from the prophet Isaiah way back at the beginning of Advent. Isaiah describes his present reality as a time of darkness, uncertainty and perhaps even a time of hopelessness. But the promise is that into the darkness a light will shine. A radiant light that will cast aside the shroud of gloom and reveal a wondrous new future filled with joy and abundance.
This is the very definition of Epiphany; it is a revelation of something which has formerly been unknown, unseen or misunderstood. For Christians this Epiphany is shown first in the birth of Christ but then, even more specifically, as that birth is revealed to the wise men from the East who, though looking for something, were no doubt astounded by what they found and then again in the Baptism of Jesus who humbled himself to be baptized by water as his Father reveals the identity of his Son to all those who witness the event.
Although we celebrate the Epiphany of Lord on a particular day of the year it is, like our own Baptism, not something that is fulfilled at a particular moment in time. Rather it is the suggestion of a process in which are involved and moving through during the entire duration of our Christian lives. The tale of the wise men from the East can give us insight into what that process might look like for ourselves.
The story of the wise men begins with a journey, or a pilgrimage. Inspired by their study of the night sky the visitors were moved by signs they had seen to uproot themselves from their familiar surroundings and to make a long trip into unfamiliar territory. No doubt respected in their homeland they now found themselves strangers in a strange land. Our faith journey sometimes asks of us to be willing to be uprooted. It is fine to be comfortable. It is good to be at ease. But if comfort and ease becomes the primary goal of our lives we can rest assured that we will soon begin to stagnate and the same is true for our lives of faith.
Sometimes a pilgrimage is necessary to break out of our rut of self-certainty in order to once again place our faith in God. A pilgrimage can be physical, actually taking the form of a journey to a new place from which we can gain new perspective. Or a pilgrimage can be spiritual, in which we allow our hearts to be moved through honest reflection and prayer on our life circumstances allowing the Holy Spirit to see them in a new light. Either way, we open our hearts for the explicit purpose of allowing our hearts to be changed by what we discover.
What we discover will often times be much unexpected. For the wise men it was revealed through their interview with King Herod that they were looking for a child born to be a king. The very fact that they were speaking with Herod indicates that the child they were looking for was going to be found in a royal house amidst the powerful and the wealthy. How surprised they must have been when they found the child in the midst of poverty and squalor wearing rags instead of robes surrounded by shepherds rather than courtiers. How inappropriate their expensive gifts must have seemed
For ourselves, what God chooses to show us and where God will lead us is often not what we would have imagined or even desired for ourselves. If we close our eyes or refuse to enter into the circumstances that God places before us we stand a great chance of missing out on a real encounter with the divine. We will not experience God if all we choose is that which is comfortable or if we doubt that God can appear in the most unexpected and sometimes difficult situations. But if we are willing to take a chance and let ourselves be drawn into the mystery that God places before us we may be astounded and enriched by what we find. We will see that we can set aside our own gifts of our efforts and talents, as well-meaning as they are, and let God give us the gift that we could not have conceived of for ourselves.
In order to make this leap we need to be willing to go forward with God in trust. When the wise men approached King Herod and told them what they had seen and where they were going Herod’s reaction was one of fear. Instead of being curious and amazed Herod became frightened and threatened. “Who is this King of the Jews?” he must have thought, “And how can I stop him from stealing my crown.”
It may be disconcerting for us to think that our lives might change if we let go of our plans and let God do with us what God will. But that is only if we believe that God is trying to make us different from who we are. In fact God is only trying to make us more of who we are. We are already made in God’s image and he sees that we are good. With God’s help we simply become more like who God made us to be.
The celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord is more than a moment; it is a reminder of the ever-present journey. It is an invitation into an encounter with God which is meant to bring joy and fulfillment into our lives for the rest of our lives. It in this encounter that not only is God revealed to us but, and perhaps more relevant to our lives here on earth, God reveals to us our true selves. God shows us the image of himself created in us, the fulfilment of who God is calling us to be.