Happy Epiphany Day. The feast of illumination – where we announce God’s light as revealed and radiated throughout all of creation. During this celebration, we remember three important moments of Jesus’ life. The visit of the wise men, the baptism of Jesus and the Wedding at Cana in Galilee.
In today’s Gospel, we heard about the wise men. I wonder what they saw in the sky that first night. What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?
We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. St. Matthew says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from Persia. We like to think that there were three of them, but St. Matthew doesn’t say that, and the number has changed throughout the church’s history; 2, 3, 4, 8, even 12. We call them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar but those names didn’t come about until the seventh century. And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets.
Once again, the magicians were off following this light in the sky, desperately trying to keep their eye on it to not lose track. And then suddenly, the star stops. And joy moves across their body like goosebumps, for they know the child is near. Upon entering the house to which this divine light points, they find the child, swaddled up in his mother’s arms and immediately they kneel before him and offered him gifts for royalty. Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, for they knew they were in the presence of their new king. That evening one of them had a dream, telling of Herod’s plot to kill all infants in the town of Bethlehem in order to prevent this rumored newborn king from taking his throne. In the morning, they took a different path back to their country; they could not return to King Herod and his leadership.
Two paths. One of darkness and death; one of light and life. The Kingdom of Herod and the Kingdom of God. Two kings, one light -this divine star which points to God’s universal desire for the best possible future for God’s people. Where does this star lead these magicians, these non-Jewish spiritual leaders of a different faith? It does not lead to the kingdom of Herod. No, that is the kingdom of darkness and death. Herod, like Pharoah, is a tyrant. Lord of oppression and bondage. So hungry for power and wealth, so self-serving that he takes to play from Pharaoh’s handbook, and orders the murder of all infants in Bethlehem. No, this is not God’s intention for the world. Instead, this light of God moves throughout the sky and stops over the house of Mary and Joseph, shining a light upon baby Jesus, as if to say, “Over here. This is the way. Let him be youy knew king. Follow him and you will see God’s desire for this world.”
This anonymity and lack of historical information is a reminder that this story, this Epiphany journey, is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey. The truth of sacred scripture is never limited to or contained only in the past.
I don’t know what they saw in the sky, that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for. But I know that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way; so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.
That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something moved within them and they began to wonder, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?
To consider these questions is to begin the journey. That journey took the wise men to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the arms of his mother, Mary. We may travel a different route than the wise men did but the answer is the same.
Yes, Yes, Yes. God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing himself in and through humanity, in the flesh.
Maybe it was the day you bathed your first grandchild and saw the beauty of creation and the love of the Creator. Or that day you said, “I love you” and knew that it was about more than just romance or physical attraction. Perhaps it was the moment you really believed your life was sacred, holy, and acceptable to God. Maybe it was the time you kept vigil at the beside of one who was dying, and you experienced the joy that death is not the end.
These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.