Matthew 2:1-12 Epiphany – January 5, 2020
This gospel passage has special resonance with me ever since I made a retreat in 1985, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Concordia, KS. I had been ordained for three years and was serving my first church as assistant minister. I had begun to feel as if I had lost myself in the role of minister. I was searching for something; I wasn’t sure what. The notion came to me to make a retreat. So I registered for a personal retreat at Manna House of Prayer run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, KS.
Over the course of the week, I let go of my plans and worries and all the books I had brought with me to read. Instead, I spent the time in silence, meditated on Scripture, walked, and prayed. In the space that opened up inside me, God’s love grasped me in a new way. I experienced myself as Beloved. At the end of the retreat, after a New Year’s Day brunch, I got into my car filled with a joy I hadn’t experienced in years. I left Concordia singing and began the drive home to Dodge City.
Three hours later, I looked up from the road and realized I didn’t know where I was. At the next town, the water tower read: Great Bend. Now Great Bend was an hour and a half northeast of Dodge City. Concordia is only 3 ½ hours from Dodge. I had been driving for three hours and I still had an hour and a half to go. In my exuberance, I had missed the exit to the highway that would have taken me more directly home. Later, when I told my spiritual director what had happened, she remarked, “How marvelous! You went home another way, just like the magi!”
When I began the retreat, I was longing for something I couldn’t name. Over the course of the week, through my experience of the sisters’ hospitality, the words of Scripture, the beauty of nature, a love deeper than I had experienced before dawned on me and enfolded me. It was a kind of epiphany. I went home seeing the world and myself differently – we were both shining as it were.
Epiphany means a manifestation, a revelation or an intuitive grasp of a new reality. I daresay, we have each had moments of epiphany though we don’t often speak about them. They are usually brief, but they have the potential to send us home a different way. The birth of a child, falling in love, suffering and loss, the beauty of creation, or perhaps a simple expression of kindness may become an occasion of epiphany for us. In our second reading, Paul speaks of his epiphany as a revelation of the mystery of Christ. In these moments, we are grasped by the mystery of life and love, and we are changed.
We are all created with a longing in our hearts for what God desires for us: light, love, joy, abundant life, hope in the midst of suffering. It is that longing in us that keeps us searching, that creates the space in us where we may be grasped by a reality larger than ourselves.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come,” says the prophet Isaiah in the darkness of his time. His words continue to speak into darkness of each generation. In the midst of violence, fear, poverty, suffering, the devastation of the earth, we hear Isaiah’s words: “Lift up your eyes and look around.” See the reality springing from the heart of the One who loves you.
The prophet calls forth the people’s imagination to see what they long for even as they live in the darkness of a ruined city. He trusts that even in the midst of devastation and despair, we can be grasped by the mystery that desires to give us abundant life and light to see our way forward.
“Lift up your eyes and look around,” Isaiah says, and the people are given hope by a vision of flourishing life in their homeland in which they are invited to participate.
Foreigners see a star. They follow their longing to a child worthy of the homage of their lives.
“Lift up your eyes and look around,” calls the prophet, and we see the holy in the face of a child, in the suffering of refugees and prisoners. We see the divine in all creation. We see the face of God in a community gathered to share our joys and struggles and to give thanks. We see the mystery of life in a loaf of bread broken and a cup of wine shared. We are grasped by a vision of all people welcome to worship and seek the Holy together.
Christ is the name by which we know this mystery of life and love. Others know it by different names: the Great Spirit, Buddha nature, Allah, the One whose name may not be spoken.
The great mystery calls all who hear to participate in the vision of abundant life and love desired for all creation. Having been grasped by this mystery, we dare to give our lives in loving service.
We bow in awe and make our way home together by another road.