Epiphany: In Celebration of the Journey
Guidance on using the lectionary.
Lectionary readings for January 6, 2017: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
“A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.” Richard Rohr
Today we celebrate epiphany—the “showing forth” or “the revelation” of Christ in the world. Epiphany takes its themes from the journey of a group of pagan astrologers who left familiar territory to find the Christ child and explore his authenticity for themselves.
This revelation did not come to them while they passively waited; indeed, they had to strike out on a new kind of journey in order to find what they were looking for.
A Good Journey
Epiphany is a wonderful celebration for those who are committing themselves more deeply to the process of spiritual transformation, for it contains themes of journeying from the known to the unknown with only a mysterious light to guide us.
Compelled by an inner desire for a deeper experience of God’s presence and guided by the appearance of some glimmer of spiritual possibility, we are brought to that choice point that is at the heart of all spiritual journeying. We must leave the familiar—with all the trappings that keep us feeling confident, secure, in control—for places that are unknown and require humility, letting go, and moving bravely in a new direction.
Whereas Advent themes have to do with receptivity and waiting, the themes of Epiphany highlight our response to the showing forth of God’s presence in our lives, beckoning to us to move beyond all we think we know. It has to do with seeing something new on the horizon that stirs something new in us.
In response to this glimpse of the More (which may, as yet, be undefined), we strike out in search of a deeper experience of spiritual reality. We don’t just talk about our desire; we walk toward it with great intention, making concrete choices along the way.
The Letting Go
I wonder what priorities and personal ambitions the wise men had to leave behind in order to take such a strange journey. What kings and councils were clamoring for their services, claiming that they were indispensable in crafting plans and strategies? What kinds of complexity and problem solving were pressing in when the star they had been watching rose in the Eastern sky, indicating it was time to follow?
But no matter….they set off anyway, responding to what was deepest and truest within them. It was a physical journey, but it was also a spiritual journey that involved learning to follow guidance from strange sources, letting go of familiar settings, recognizing the presence of God in places smaller and more humble, more human and more intimate than the places the ego journey takes us. And there was a whole new set of questions to ponder.
who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language
the values shared by my society.
But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.
pitch your tent with mine
so that I may not become deterred
by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognized…
Help me find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.
The Magi’s journey eventually led them to a strange country, a strange setting, common ordinary people. But in this strange place so far outside their comfort zone, they found what they were looking for. They saw the child with Mary his mother and they knelt down and paid him homage.
One of the ways these “wise ones” recognized the showing forth of God’s presence is that it resonated differently than what they were accustomed to. Being in Christ’s presence stirred their emotions (they were overwhelmed with joy), moved their bodies (to kneel down and worship), overflowed in generosity of spirit (they gave him extravagant, heart-felt gifts), and opened them to spiritual guidance for their next steps (which came to them in a dream.)
These wise ones were probably more comfortable living and leading from their heads, but to be overwhelmed by joy…to have a visceral experience of worship…to receive God’s guidance through a dream (of all things!)…this was a new kind of journey. Eventually they would return home (by a different way) but they would be changed.
Walking with the Wise Ones
So, what might we learn from walking in the shoes of those who left familiar territories to follow a mysterious star? How is our own journey mirrored in the journey these seekers took?
What priorities and personal ambitions might we need to leave behind in order to take a new kind of journey?
Might we notice that real insight, revelation, enlightenment (as the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 3) is sometimes found in the most unexpected places?
Might we learn that our bodies have wisdom that our minds know nothing of, telling us when it is time to drop to our knees and give our allegiance to something small and humble rather than something large and impressive?
Might we discover that worship—an extravagant giving of ourselves in response to God-come-near—is one sign that we have truly “seen” Christ?
Could it be that sometimes there is a need to disobey (or at least side-step) the “powers that be” in order to respond to something truer? Is there something to be learned about the nature of discernment—how spiritual guidance is given and received?
And, when it is time, are we willing to return to our own country—the place where we are called to live and lead—bearing witness to a truer wisdom born from a humble encounter with Christ?
Isn’t this the kind of leadership people are longing to find and follow?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
©Ruth Haley Barton, 2015-2017
Poem by Kate Compston, Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, 1990.
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