You know the story of the Epiphany which we celebrated this past week. Three ‘kings,’ three gifts, mysterious dream and exceptional star. It’s really the romantic, adventuresome part of the birth narrative of Jesus told beautifully in Matthew who begins his Gospel with the story of the Magi, visitors from the East who were Gentiles. Matthew wants all Gentiles, indeed, all non-Jews to know that Christ came for them as well. So, he begins his Gospel with this story. Citing the Magi, he gives this theological theory a lot of credibility. The Magi truly were wise men, professional astrologers, probably from Mesopotamia, the center of astrological studies. They have simply detected a different kind of star and knew it meant the birth of someone special, possibly the Messiah for the Jews since it appears in the ken of Bethlehem skies. They have no investment in this discovery except to identify it and if it leads to the Messiah, they want to recognize that. Not necessarily believe it applies to them.
But, here’s the rub: Because after they arrived in Jerusalem seeking the Messiah, they started asking all over, “Where is this child who is born to be King of the Jews?” Well, that surely tipped the scales of Herod’s
self inadequacy and he demanded that the Magi be brought to him. I can imagine their temerity before this monarch of hate, can’t you? They are commanded to let him know where they find the Messiah under the pretext that he, the imperial ruler of the Jews might worship him. My imagination runs rampant here thinking of how the Magi conversed together before they found the Messiah in simple surroundings. What followed was the intervention of God in a dream that they return a different way home and never inform Herod of where they found the Messiah.
This story is full of meaning for all of us. This is the season of post-Christmas, the season to think about the epiphanies in our own lives and their spiritual value, whether you are Christian or not. Can we try? Let’s do it.
An epiphany (small ‘e’) is a life changing event. It’s got a lot of heft to it; it is not the decision of what color to paint your kitchen, or what make of car to purchase, or even what school to send your kids to. Actually, circumstances make an epiphany the real thing. For instance, an epiphany is usually a change in one’s spiritual life as it was for the person who, suddenly, coming upon a passage of scripture scrawled as graffiti on a building’s wall, is led to investigate that passage and ultimately the faith in which it is contextualized. An epiphany might occur when someone in a crowd or classroom or even a party says something that lingers in one’s mind and demands an investigation, and finally, a change.
The story of the Magi has two major epiphanies. First, the Magi demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah for everyone!! Matthew tells us “…they were overjoyed” to find the child and they presented gifts befitting a royal birth. But if the child is not royalty, what is he? The personal epiphany of these men brings them into the presence of someone who came to show them “…the way, the truth and the light,” not the power of worldly leadership. Then there is the epiphany of the dream which changes their intention to report back to Herod and which sends them off to home by another route—not just off to home. Another route. A major change. That is truly what an epiphany is, a change of route, another way home.
Many of us will experience an epiphany at some point in life. What we had set out seeking has changed. Perhaps it’s a change of faith direction or a complete change of a career for profit to one of service to others. Maybe my prayer will lead me to reject an ideology of exclusion to an open mindedness of inclusion.
Have you ever had an epiphany that changed your life? Write in your journal how you feel about this epiphany. If you are moved to do so, please share with us what that epiphany was.
Try to be conscious of what the Spirit places before you. It may be that you are being prepared for an epiphany in your life. If you are aware of this possibility, you may be looking at a change of route, another way home. And, you will be happy.
Read Matthew 2:1-12. Let the words settle slowly into your prayer.
Be open to the wonder of an epiphany.