Feast of the Epiphany
January 5, 2020
The Rev. Gregory P. Sammons
Lost in the Stars?
The Wisemen are latecomers to the Christmas party. At our house, we park them on the corner China cabinet, far away from the manger on the fireplace mantel. On Epiphany, we move them into the manger scene, and whisk the shepherds “back to their fields” on the China cabinet.
This small sleight of hand barely hints at the long, risky journey of the Wiseman, over snowy mountain passes, through burning deserts, coaxing their stubborn camels all the way. The journey of the Wisemen overturns a deep instinct we have about Christmas: that’s it’s all about coming home to a cozy familiar place.
Today, Matthew 2:1-12 contradicts us: Christmas is about leaving home—-letting go of comfortable and familiar things. Frankly, who wants to do that? Probably not many of us—-including these Wisemen.
Tradition has made them kings, but Matthew calls them magi, “astrologers”, that is, stargazers. To them, the heavens are God’s Facebook page, where God announces important events to us lowly earthlings.
Being a Wiseman surely must have been a good gig. They had a lot of prestige in their hometowns. Leaders beat a path to their doorway to consult with them. People gathered around them at parties to hear their latest predictions. Home was a great place to be. Why leave?
Some of us feel this same gravitational pull, especially during Christmas season.
Our houses sparkle with lights. Loved ones gather. We eat yummy food and probably way too much dessert. But it’s so brief, in a heartbeat this sweet glittering season over. If you are like me, you may want to cling to it, to do it again, and to resist the march into a new year with its worries + responsibilities.
The burning question as the year turns is this: will our inertia and nostalgia keep us glued to this spot, looking backwards? Or will we let go and take the journey into the unknown that will change us?
The Wisemen surely felt this same tug on their hearts to stay home, so God coaxed them out of the nest with a celestial object, maybe a supernova. God spoke to them in the language they knew. They gazed at it, and believed some new truth had dawned on earth. It was a truth that might overthrow their wisdom and shake their assumptions. But it was a new and profound key to life’s destiny.
So they set off on journey. Maybe at times, they thought they’d made a mistake, that they were lost in the stars. Perhaps they were tired of the fleabag motels they had to stay in along the way. They often yearned to go home!
But instead they pressed on, sustained by the star hanging in the sky like a promise—that a mighty unseen hand was directing them, though they couldn’t yet see the destination.
Isn’t this so much like all our turning points in life. We never know all the facts ahead of time! We cannot know the end. And yet we take a step or we’re pushed out of the nest. We leave home to go to college. We chose a spouse “for better or for worse.” We accept a job in a faraway city where we are strangers and have to start all over again. We decide to downsize and move to a retirement community, and take armloads of stuff to Goodwill that is part of our life’s story. It is very hard to do this, yet we do it anyway.
We’re just following some star, a bright inner feeling that this choice seems right. (Or the wisdom and advice of loved ones and friends is the star that guides us.) But, even so, this doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing.
We may had have times of disillusionment and grief when we wanted to turn back. When we thought we’d made a mistake and we were lost. Yet, in or best moments, we can look back and admit that that specific choice, that journey, brought unexpected blessing, shaped us in profound ways and maybe even brought us a fresh vision of God in our life.
This is the way it must have been for the Wisemen. At first, they were probably shocked by where the star led them—not to a grand palace but to a lowly shack. But they entered in, and beheld God’s truth, a truth not written in the cold distant stars, but in warm human flesh—God’s vulnerable love in a baby, his arms wide open to welcome them. This Child was the object of their journey, the Truth that would change them forever. They knelt down in adoration.
This Gospel is meant for each of us. This new year may bring unexpected journeys in our personal lives. It has certainly brought an unexpected journey to this parish, as you wait patiently and prayerfully for the recovery and return of Fr. John.
In all our journeys, whatever they may be, this Gospel is an Epiphany, “a shining forth” to us of God’s promise. Our confidence, our security is in this same Child who comes with glad and hopeful news.
God is with us to stay. God has thrown in his lot with us because, in this Jesus, He became one with us. And if we travel with him, our journey is not an aimless wandering in the dark. It can be a Holy Pilgrimage in which we see the shining signs of God’s presence around us everyday, and it will finally lead us, in the words of today’s collect, to see God’s glory face to face.
The ancient promise of Jeremiah (29:13) to God’s people is still true:
You shall seek me and find me, if you seek me with all their hearts.