Epiphany of the Lord
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Mt. 2:2
What a challenging story.
Unfortunately, we’ve heard it so many times, acted it out in so many plays, and displayed it so regularly in our nativity scenes, that we’ve lost our sense of just how unusual and inspiring it is.
So, let’s look a little closer … especially in this political time period in which so many “Christian” people are demanding that Muslims no longer be allowed in our country, and Hispanics should be deported. Often the thinking behind these attitudes is that only we Christians are to be seen as God’s cherished people, especially those of us who are white skinned and have European backgrounds.
But notice that the main characters in this story, found only in the gospel of Matthew, are not white, not Christian, and not even Jewish. They are pagan foreigners – three people from an Eastern alien country.
At that time, the Jewish people considered themselves to be God’s chosen ones. They embraced what they believed to be the one true religion and all other people were hopelessly lost. It’s the same conviction that many Christian people in our own country have today. We are the only ones that matter, and the only ones God loves. You know that for many years we Catholics were not even considered to be Christian. We were “other,” foreign, not to be trusted.
Most of us start out on this path. We begin by believing that we are special; we are chosen; we are unique; we are not like the others. Our school is the best. Our team is the best. Our family is the best. And, therefore, our religion is the best.
And then along comes a gospel reading like today’s. In it, three men claim to have seen a star in the sky – a star so captivating and so hypnotizing that they were compelled to leave their land and follow that star – wherever it would take them.
So here they are: three outsiders, three lost souls, three pagan new-agers, if you will, who follow a light in the sky at great expense of both time and money. Why would they do this?
They would do it only because they were seekers of truth. We call them “wise men.” And we call them that because they were willing to give their all to search for the truth, to search for the ultimate meaning of life, to search for God.
The star is a symbol of direction and knowledge for the wise men. It is a manifestation – the meaning of the word “epiphany” – of God’s guidance as a Light for the way. The star in the sky is ultimately a sign of hope and vision for all people of all times.
And that hope and that vision is this: that with this child’s birth a new age has dawned, a new possibility is now accessible to all people of whatever skin color or ethnicity or gender or religion. God’s abundant, infinite Love reaches to the ends of the earth.
A priest tells this story: Many years ago he was giving several retreats in India. While there, he became very sick from some food that he had eaten. To assist him in getting well, the local people put a young Hindu boy in charge of his caretaking. To quote the priest: “The boy waited on me day and night, making sure that my every need was met. All along, the boy would keep asking me what I needed. As I lay in bed, I began to wonder how a young man could come to such love, deeply caring for someone that he never knew and who was not of his religion. So one morning I asked him, ‘Who is God for you?’ He said very politely, ‘Sir, I believe that whenever one person shows respect for another person, there is God.’”
This is the lesson of Epiphany: God is shown forth wherever people are searching for love and light and truth.
This is the wisdom of those three foreigners that we call “wise men”: God is present wherever people are treated with charity and mercy.
This is the star in the sky that leads us to go deeper and deeper within ourselves – beyond our biases, beyond our smallness – and to always be in search for the truth embodied in a Child lying in a manger: the truth that God so loved the world that He became Emmanuel, God with us and for us and within us – a God always calling us to leave our comfort zones and go beyond – way beyond.
May this New Year be a time for each of us to follow the star that leads us to Bethlehem and, like the three men who we now call “wise,” drop to our knees and bring God the gifts of becoming wise men and wise women ourselves – people dedicated to the signs of God’s presence within: truth and compassion.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.