Epiphany - Year C - 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center
I had an epiphany this week. That shouldn't be surprising - some sort of awakening or new understanding should accompany our celebration of the Epiphany. It all started with asking a simple question: 'What is the relationship of Epiphany to Christmas?' Why are these wise men from the East always part of the Christmas scene? What I realized is this – here’s my Christmas Epiphany: we haven't really experienced Christmas until we, too, have followed the path of the wise men. What they did was simple - but far from easy; what they did is a model for how we should live our lives in light of the Christmas reality. And what did they do? They came without knowing where they were going; they saw with the eyes of faith; and they were changed as a result.
They came without knowing where they were going.
We don't know much about these men from the East except that they were searching, looking for a sign; and when they saw the sign, they followed it - they responded to it - and they followed where it led them. And I’m guessing that what they found wasn’t what they thought they were looking for.
A while ago, I set out to meet some friends at ‘the best little coffee shop around.’ I'd never been there before, and was in a town I'm not all that familiar with. All I had was this vague description - the best little coffee shop around - and my GPS. In the maze of one-way streets and strange downtown parking arrangements, even after I heard that recorded female voice announce 'Arriving at Destination,' I drove around for another 15 minutes almost completely lost. But my desire to visit with my friends urged me on - and eventually I found it.
We are all coming from different places in our lives - but in one way or another, God is calling us toward Himself. He calls us into this community, He calls us to hear and respond to His word, He calls us to meet Him at this altar. God calls us into a relationship with Him that lasts beyond our encounter here - He calls us to live the mystery of Christmas all year long - at home, at work, and in the world. Sometimes all we have is some vague notion of which direction to go - some vague understanding of what it means to live the Christian life in this crazy, crazy world. But that's no excuse. We are called to live like the Magi, who came without knowing where they were going.
... and they saw with the eyes of faith.
No one in their right mind would present these particular gifts to a poor child living in the middle of nowhere. The gifts themselves suggest the Magi saw something that eyes alone could not explain. Gold - gold is fit for a king! It’s a sign of the king's wealth and dominion, a symbol of the power he is able to mobilize to accomplish whatever he wills. And frankincense, a scent set apart for use in the sanctuary of the temple - used for the worship of the Most High God Himself. Nothing they saw with their human eyes could have justified such a gift. But they saw with the eyes of faith; lying there in the manger they saw the One Who Is To Come! And what about myrrh? Its bitterness was normally an embalming additive for dressing the bodies of the dead. Through the eyes of faith these wise men saw the shadow of the cross. These wise men didn't see a baby stricken with poverty and unsavory family circumstance; no, they saw the King of Kings destined for a profoundly sacrificial life!
When I finally found that little coffee shop, I almost turned around and walked out. It wasn't anything like I'd imagined. Sparse and silent, instead of the warm glow and soft music expected. Four drinks on the menu - not the dozens of choices I'm used to. No large, comfy leather chairs to relax in, just cold, hard, hand-me-down dining room chairs from decades past. There was NOTHING about this place that said 'best coffee shop around' - nothing... except the company, the friendship, and - once I got past my initial impressions - the coffee itself.
How many times in our lives are we traveling as best as we can along the direction we think God is pointing us, only to arrive and look around in disbelief. Only the eyes of faith can show us we're walking in the right direction. Like the wise men, we are called to follow the path without knowing the destination, and to see ourselves and the world around us with the eyes of faith.
The wise men followed the path without knowing the destination, they saw with the eyes of faith, and that changed them. They departed by a different way. Because they followed God’s leading - even when it was difficult to understand - they followed the path laid out for them and arrived in the presence of the Savior. Because they saw with the eyes of faith, they truly encountered God’s love and mercy – they experienced the salvation of God in the flesh. The same is true for us. Without the journey and the eyes of faith, December 25th is nothing more than the birthday of a poor obscure Jewish boy. There is no experience of Christmas without the Epiphany.
Several years ago, I started seeing a beautiful phrase on Christmas cards and decorations. 'Wise Men Still Seek Him.' Yes, friends, wise men and women still seek Him! They journey without knowing where they're going, they see with the eyes of faith, and they are changed when they encounter Jesus Christ. What about you?