A new season is upon us. It’s not just the merriment and possibility of New Year’s. It’s the season of Epiphany, the season of God’s manifestation and our willingness to experience God in the unexpected places of our lives. It’s the season of taking new pathways, going home by a different route, with new hopes, dreams, and commitments.
Epiphany is traditionally the season in the Christian year when we awaken to God’s presence in the varieties of religious experience. God’s revelation is boundless and comes to each and all. Everyone is touched by God. We can find God in a Syrian refugee camp, a borderland detention center, a bible study and worship service, or a time of bereavement and loss. We can find God in a Muslim mosque or a Buddhist monastery and the questions that keep us up at night.
The whole earth is filled with God’s glory, and God’s light shines in all things and every moment, even the moments that are most difficult and painful.
The heroes of the Epiphany season are the magi from the East. Persians, Iranians, perhaps the followers of the prophet Zoroaster, believers in the light that pierces the darkness, the battle between light and darkness, and good and evil, and the eventual triumph of the light. Magi – scientists, priests, and astrologers who peer at the heavens looking for a synchronicity between the movements of the stars and human life, noting singularities in the sky that portend the birth of an enchanted child, a wise leader, a world savior.
How great their joy! Prophesy fulfilled! A bright star in the heavens, slowly moving across the sky, inspiring their caravan to pilgrim from the comforts of their upper-class homes to humble Bethlehem in Judea. Star gazers from the East in the court of Herod, bringing the most upsetting news – God’s revelation coming to foreigners, Persians, and taking birth in backwater Bethlehem. You would think God’s Messiah would have the class to be born among the polite and well-dressed, the 1%, not the great unwashed; among educated and erudite and not the barely literate, so the high priest, king, and his court thought.
Yet, Epiphany is not about race and class – it’s not even about religion. Our boundaries and walls don’t matter to God. It’s about the broadcast signals of God’s revelation coming to us whenever we tune in. Hark – the angels sing and shepherds quake at their praise. Joy – camels traverse the desert and magi bow before a child. Perhaps, the magi were also stunned by revelation – a Hebrew child, God’s savior in a stable, messy and chaotic, without portfolio or status. Yet, no one is as low as God or as majestic as the Creator.
And the wise ones bring gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – gifts befitting royalty. Praising the new born king! The power of generosity to transform our hearts and the world.
Then comes the dream. A dream can turn everything upside down. Just ask Joseph, in the wake of an angelic vision, telling him “don’t be afraid; go ahead and marry the girl!”
The magi have a dream that turns their world upside down. They expected to pay their respects to Herod and politely give the King news of the newborn child. But, then comes the warning, “don’t go back to Herod. He’s dangerous.” And, so they return home by another way.
“They returned home by another way.” These are some of the most insightful words of scripture. We think we know where we’re going. We make plans for the future, and then life throws us a curve, and we have to have to take another pathway – a new job, a new relationship, a new home, new gifts and talents; the death of a spouse or a brush with death. We have to go in a different direction than we imagined.
I know what it’s like to go home by another route, to end up somewhere you’ve never imagined. An unexpected road took me to Cape Cod. In Fall 2012, while commuting coast to coast from Washington DC to Claremont, California, where I was teaching theology at the seminary, I pondered going forward to congregational ministry. When I began circulating my ministerial profile, I’d never heard of Centerville. I’d only been on the Cape once, and that was to catch the Falmouth ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I had looked forward to a future as a seminary president or dean, but another dream emerged – to pastor a congregation that would welcome my gifts as a teacher, writer, spiritual guide and pastor – that dream lured me to this village by the sea. Another road brought me here and I am living out my calling in ways I hadn’t imagined several years ago.
Have you taken that other road? Has a dream brought you somewhere you hadn’t expected? Has what looked like disappointment become the road to high adventure and led you to your place of deep joy?
Today, the journey of the magi calls us – God is here and everywhere – God may surprise us with a burning bush on a rainy day, a revelation when we feel confused, an unexpected pathway when we see no way forward.
Let us follow the star, follow the dream, and find God on our way.