“We three kings of Orient are. Bearing gifts we traverse so far, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.” So begins one of our familiar Christmas carols. At the end of the gospel account we are simply told that warned in a dream left by another way, not returning to Jerusalem and King Herod. They came expecting to find a newborn child within the settings of the royal court. They found a child born among the poor on the margins of life. The followed the light of a star to come before the One for whom the first reading proclaims: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” (Is 60:3) Now that the magi have encountered the Light of Christ, how will they walk into their unfolding future? What light will mark the pathway of their lives? I wonder if they no longer looked to the night sky for direction in their lives, but somehow looked to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for how to live. What did their encounter with the Christ Child reveal to them?
Revelation, the unfolding, an unveiling – these are all meanings of this day’s celebration: epiphania – Epiphany.
Like the magi, we all walk with our path illuminated by the light of some wisdom, some commandments, family traditions, habits, customs and more. And then we encounter Christ. When the magi encountered Christ the word used was “overjoyed.” The Prophet Isaiah describes it this way: Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow (Is 60:5) How about us? Such is the effect of fullness of the light of Christ in the encounter. But then what? The question becomes (a) what is revealed to you in the encounter and (b) how will this revelation affect the path by which you journey through life?
Perhaps the encounter is earth-shattering and life-changing. Such was St. Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus when the light of the encounter blinded him for a time. But Paul answered the call. Took time to think about what had been revealed to him. He took time to consider the new path by which he would walk. We know the rest of his story.
Perhaps the revelation is as though someone is operating a dimmer switch with the light slowly, ever more brilliantly illuminating the room. In the bright, full spectrum of that divine light, what is revealed? How will this change you? Even in the partial illumination, what is revealed?
I think I left my dimmer switch on low for a long time. A high school religion teacher tweaked the switch up a notch and I took baby steps into the world of the Bible. I am still taking baby steps, but some 50+ years later, all those steps become the journey of a lifetime. I look back on what began as a “hello, how ya’ doing” that is now a companion for the way with whom I have shared much and received much. I have not yet begun to fully know Jesus, but the relationship is so much deeper now than in the beginning. Still, baby steps, just a lifetime accumulation of them – it adds up.
How’s my dimmer switch setting? Brighter for sure and I am sure there are more lumens left in that light. Who knows what will be revealed. Like St. Paul, we all need to take time to think about what has been revealed and what comes because of it.
Did the encounters along the way change me? Yes. I am still changing. I will continue to change.
The magi were changed. God provided more than just the star. When the star took them to Jerusalem, the Scriptures revealed to them Bethlehem. Perhaps there was also the testimony of shepherds. In the end, the Word of God came to them and sent them on another way home. God provides it all.
Each day, each Sunday, each season of grace we partly operate like Magi – the dimmer switch providing less than full illumination. We come to give homage, to worship, to bow down before God in Eucharist – and we come face-to-face with Christ as king and Messiah. And then we come again, and again. And the whole journey is marked with signs, Scripture and people. All illumined with the Light of Grace. Like the magi, like the shepherds, like everyone who would come to see, to encounter Jesus, all leave changed if they will but accept the grace given. If we will take the time to think about the encounter.
Maybe we are to be like the shepherds and announce the Good News to those expecting a savior. Maybe we are to be like the magi, discovering not a king but a messiah and are called to return to our world and announce the good news to people who had no expectations at all. In any case, we are called to be stewards of that grace and “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come” – and by whatever path we came, leave by a new way.
This day, come to the altar like the seeking magi. Encounter Christ in the Word Proclaimed and in his precious Body and Blood. Return to a new way, a new expectation, a new year, a new life – even if by baby steps. Let them add up.
Image credit: The Adoration of the Magi by Edward Burne-Jones (1904) | Public Domain