Image: Light of the sun returning to the north.
The first reading for today’s Mass recalls the beautiful promises we heard from the prophet Isaiah way back at the beginning of Advent. Isaiah describes his present reality as a time of darkness, uncertainty, and hopelessness. But the promise he shares is that into the darkness a light will shine, a radiant light that will cast aside the shroud of gloom and reveal a wondrous new future filled with joy and abundance.
This is the very definition of Epiphany; it is a revelation of something which has formerly been unknown, unseen or misunderstood. For Christians, this Epiphany is shown first in the birth of Christ but then, even more specifically, as that birth is revealed to the wise men from the East. They came looking for something special, but were no doubt astounded by what they found, as they encountered the newborn child Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem.
Although we celebrate the Epiphany of Lord on a particular day of the year it is, like our own baptism, not something that just takes place at a particular moment in time. It is the beginning of a process in which we are involved and moving through during the entire duration of our lives. The tale of the wise men from the East gives us insight into what that process might look like.
The story of the wise me begins with a journey, or a pilgrimage. Inspired by their study of the night sky the visitors were moved by signs they had seen to uproot themselves from their familiar surroundings and to make a long trip into unfamiliar territory. Though they were respected scholars in their homeland they now found themselves strangers in a strange land. Our faith journey sometimes asks of us to be willing to be uprooted. It is fine to be comfortable. It is good to be at ease. But if comfort and ease become the primary goal of our lives, we can rest assured that we will soon begin to stagnate and the same is true for our lives of faith.
Sometimes a pilgrimage is necessary to break out of our rut of self-certainty in order to, once again, place our faith in God. A pilgrimage can be a physical journey to a new place from which we can gain new perspective. A pilgrimage can also be a spiritual journey, in which we allow our hearts to be moved through honest reflection and prayer on our life circumstance allowing the Holy Spirit to show them to us in a new light. Either way, we open our hearts for the explicit purpose of allowing our hearts to be changed by what God reveals to us.
What we discover will often times be unexpected. For the wise men it was revealed through their interview with King Herod that they were looking for a child born to be a king. How surprised they must have been when they found the child in the midst of poverty and squalor wearing rags instead of robes and surrounded by shepherds rather than courtiers. How inappropriate their expensive gifts must have seemed
What God chooses to show us and where God will lead us is often not what we would have imagined or even desired for ourselves. If we close our eyes or refuse to enter into the circumstances that God places before us, we stand a great chance of missing out on a real encounter with the divine. We will not experience God if all we choose is that which is comfortable or if we doubt that God can appear in the most unexpected and sometimes difficult situations. But if we are willing to take a chance and let ourselves be drawn into the mystery that God places before us, we may be astounded and enriched by what we find. We will see that we can set aside our own gifts, our efforts and talents as well meaning as they are, and let God give us the perfect gift that we could not have conceived of for ourselves.