It was late one Christmas Eve and in spite of his wife’s pleas her husband would not accompany her to church. This whole crazy idea of God becoming a human being made absolutely no sense to his logical mind.
After his wife had gone to church he stood watching the heavy snow at his picture window. He thought of the birds and wondered if they would find the seeds he had put out for them. It was snowing hard enough that the seed holders were quickly covered. He turned on the lights in his backyard, but both the birds and seeds were lost in the falling snow. Putting on his heavy woolen coat, he went outside and opened his big barn door.
Then he spread birdseed just inside the barn, hoping that the birds would see it. They did not. Still hoping to help these little starving creatures, the man tried desperately to shoo the little birds toward the light of the open barn…but they were too frightened. Here they were, only inches away from the food and water they needed, and he was helpless to do more.
If I were only a bird he thought to himself, “I would show them the way to that life-giving food.” Just then the church bells began to ring announcing Christmas morning. But something also rang inside the man…through the power of his own analogy about showing the birds the way to the life-giving bird seed…a creeping comprehension began to grow within him that perhaps God could indeed appear to us in human form.
On the Day of the Epiphany, which was this past Friday, we once again have the opportunity to gain or regain an understanding of the significance of Christ’s birth, a light; a beacon to guide us…a human light that can bring awareness, insight and spiritual strength to all of us.
Symbolically, in the presence of the Wise Men, who we know as Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, with their gifts to the young child, an Epiphany occurs to all present at that moment…an awakening, an insight, a vision of what is, what will be and what could be. So every January 6th we celebrate the Epiphany as a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentile world…the non-Jewish community.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that King Herod of Jerusalem, fearful of the prophecy of the birth of a Messiah, a new king in his realm, sent the magi to find the child and report back to him so that, he Herod, could go pay ‘homage.’ Having followed a star, as we are told, the Magi did found the child Jesus in Bethlehem. Overwhelmed with joy at having found what they were seeking …they presented their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
All gifts they felt befit a person of extreme importance, gifts for one who would add value to people’s live, one who would add value to the world.
After the Magi, we are told, were warned in a dream that Herod did not have good intentions toward the child, they chose not to go to Herod with their news but instead return to their homeland another way. The Magi had an intuition and an Epiphany of their own…that Jesus’ birth was an extraordinary event. In experiencing the phenomenon of a moving star, in their dreaming, and in their giving of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we believe the Magi recognized in this child of humble origins the promised Christ.
Light and joy go together in the context of revelation, of finding something we have been seeking for a long time. Of finding someone who embodies for us…the end of a quest. This was the nature of the Child to the Wise Men, who had followed a star and persevered in their faith and belief…that the child’s light could also shine on them and give their lives new meaning.
The story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew allowed the Jewish followers of Christ to imagine the unthinkable…God’s grace extending to outsiders, the gentiles. Almost unthinkable!
Who then are the outsiders in our world? And as we seek to identify them…can we also imagine the favor of our Creator reaching out to others beyond the human boundaries of race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religious devotion and gender? The Epiphany story portrays people on a journey in search of truth, and acceptance and understanding and a glimpse of the divine, people seeking God with a sincere heart…”If we were to recast the story of the Magi, who, in our world of today, will play these seekers of the divine in our midst…you, me, who? Consider the possibilities: those without power or wealth, young people, women…”Who do we envision as inheritors of the light of Epiphany?
The joy that has come and can come to us at Christmas is for all…if we but have hearts open to receive. Yet, do we not tend to forget, year after year, the momentous change that this Child can bring to all of us through the example of his life and teachings. So we are urged once again to travel with the Wise Men, to look on the faces of the Holy Family, to absorb once again some of the light that remains from the glow of the star.
A story is told of a little girl whose mother had just given birth to a baby boy. When the baby brother came home this little girl was all excited, and she wanted more than anything to spend some time alone with him. She asked…then begged, the pleaded, and cajoled her parents: “Please let me spend some time with my baby brother! I have to see him alone!”
The parents, as you can imagine, were somewhat fearful, and couldn’t understand her persistence…thinking she might, in someway, hurt the child.
But due to her continued insistence, they finally gave in to her. So she went into the baby’s bedroom and closed the door behind her. But the parents opened the door a crack so they could observe, and this is what they heard:
The little girl leaned over the crib and asked, “Tell me again what God is like! I’m starting to forget!”
Epiphany can help each of us to recap the depth and breadth of the Epiphany Story, to re-enter it as children with open minds, to take from it…the essential truths that will carry us into the weeks ahead…to aid our remembrance and understanding as we again trace the steps of Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and Resurrection and Ascension for us.
We are here, today, to spread the light of Epiphany, to celebrate the gift of the Child, to be emissaries of his message to the world and to the world we each live in…that God has come down to us in human form. We live in extraordinary times, and the challenge to choose life rather death has never been greater. But just as the Wise Men took their journey one step at a time, we are offered this vision of hope as we seek to bring the light of Christ into our lives, into our world, with all its meaning, with all of its inclusiveness…one step, one day at a time.