Going Home by Another Road


Epiphany is the season of revealing. It is the season which celebrates the many manifestations of God, within and beyond the Christian tradition. The magi from the East, possibly coming from today’s Iran, were followers of the spiritual leader Zoroaster, and believers in the light of God that overcomes the darkness and chaos of evil. They were light seekers and the rising star captivated their imaginations. They saw the world as a contest between darkness and light, evil and good, and hoped that this star would tip the balance of history toward God’s vision of light.

No doubt these magi were astounded by the brightness of a star on the horizon, and given their interest in astronomy and astrology, believed this star to be a sign of a new age coming, and a religious leader who would change the world. And, so they journeyed toward Bethlehem in search of this child of light.

Perhaps the magi were also astounded to discover that the religious and political leaders of Jerusalem knew nothing of this star or the coming spiritual leader it announced. Being of the elite and educated class, the magi may have expected to find wisdom among those considered wealthy and wise, but alas, they found nothing but perplexity and fear among the Jerusalem religious and political elite. And so they set off, like so many seekers, looking for truth in unexpected places.

They discover a young child, perhaps two years old, living in simplicity with his parents, and despite appearances to the contrary, they know that is the child of light, the Christ, the world-changer. Their journey is complete, as they kneel in prayerful adoration, bestowing on this humble child gifts worthy of a worldly monarch.

Their initial inclination is to return to Jerusalem, to the temple and the palace, with news of their great find. But, a dream warns them to take another route.

Shortly thereafter, Joseph also has a dream revealing that the child is in danger. An angel tells him to take this child and his family to Egypt. And, so like many parents who cross borders, Joseph and Mary take their little one, go across the desert, and seek refuge as immigrants in a strange land. Though Egypt had Jewish settlements, no doubt aliens from other lands were viewed with suspicion and raised worries that they would drain the economy and rob good citizens of their jobs. Only the kindness of strangers enabled this immigrant family to survive.

The magi “left for their own country by another road” and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus took an unexpected journey to a new land. This is one of my favorite lines in scripture – “they left for their own country by another road.” When he was a child, I read the Dr. Suess’s book, “All the Places You’ll Go” to my son Matt. It was an adventure book, bidding children to look to far horizons, think big, and expect great things out of life. While their lives now were circumscribed by their house, community, and school, someday young children would go on great adventures, see the world, and experience things far beyond the imagination of kindergartners and teens.

If we live long enough, we know that some of our journeys are by choice, and others are forced by life’s circumstances. In fact, many of our journeys occur within the geography of our homes and communities. We don’t have to leave home to have an adventure. We don’t have to relocate to experience upheaval, change, and transformation.

How many of you have taken another road than you anticipated or ended up in a place you had not planned? When I settled down for a lifelong career at Georgetown University in 1982, as chaplain and professor, I never expected to find myself living on Cape Cod. But, after nearly twenty years at Georgetown, I needed to move on; and although I imagined my next steps would involve another twenty years as seminary professor and dean, I was called by life’s circumstances to move forward, after eight years at Lancaster Seminary, to congregational ministry, just a few steps from the ocean. I didn’t always have a clear sense of where I would be going, and at times, I felt unsettled by the changes I made and the changes forced upon me, but I lived in faith that God’s providence would make a way to the future.

There are the roads not taken, as Robert Frost asserts, and there are also the unexpected, even unchosen roads taken, whether they involve illness, aging, job insecurity, addiction, divorce, or the loss of the spouse. But, as today’s scripture suggests, along the pathway, we will discover a star and a dream. We will find the guidance we need, one step at time, one moment at a time, to embrace the futures we dream of and the futures we’d like to avoid.

In every big change, we wonder if we will have the resources to face life’s challenges. Will we be able to live alone? Will we find another job worthy of our gifts? Will we make it in high school, with all its complexity, or college, with all its freedom? Will we face aging and diminishment with grace and faithfulness?

There are no guarantees of success or that the future will be as we planned; nor were there any guarantees for Mary and Joseph, as their pilgrimage took them to Egypt.

But, there is a dream and a star, and a gentle providence that guides our path, and makes a way where we see no way. This pathway lies ahead for each of us, when we place our lives in God’s care, listening for guidance, and following God’s vision to new and creative places in our personal lives and in the future of this congregation.

With a dream and star, we will take new routes and discover to our surprise all the wondrous places we’ll go.