The gospel text for Epiphany is always the story of the Magi in Matthew 2. They saw the light, an unusual star, and followed it to Palestine, where, naturally, they went to Jerusalem. Where else would a king be born? They go to the king to inquire where the new king was to be found. King Herod consults the priests and elders, then sends magi to Bethlehem and they find the baby Jesus, and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Familiar story, right? It usually gets lumped into the Christmas story with the shepherds and the manger. All of our Nativity Scenes have Mary & Joseph, Jesus in a manger, shepherds, and three kings, right?
There are lots of myths and stories about these Magi, very little of which is actually known to be true. Magi were NOT kings, NOT wise men. Instead, they were pagan, dream-interpreting, fortune-telling, psychic hot-line, Tarot card readers. They represent to Mary and Joseph and other good religious people of the day idolatry and religious hocus-pocus, those who told the future using chicken gizzards and tea leaves. They were not royal, respected, or educated. They were everything the people of God were not.
Yet in Matthew’s gospel, they are the first to come and worship the Christ child. God called them—of all people—God revealed to them the newborn king, the Savior of the world.
God didn’t come to the magi because of the purity of their doctrine, the morality of their lives, or the correctness of their faith! God came to them, called them, gave them an epiphany because God’s love includes everyone. Jesus has come for the sake of everyone.
God came to them in a different way, but a way they could recognize—through a star. God entered their lives and called them from within their own lives and their own experience. Like God does for all of us, God enters our world, our lives, our particularities and reveals God’s own self in ways we can recognize.
That’s first: are we paying attention as God comes into our lives with epiphanies, working in ways we don’t expect? When was the last time God surprised you?
Let me tell one. I volunteer as a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. In December they held a holiday party for the 25 or so Bigs and Littles that are part of our local program. The sponsor for this party is a financial company that buys past-due loans and muscles people into paying them. A long time ago I was on the wrong end of a company like this, and it wasn’t a good experience.
But for this party, this company provided a full meal for all these Bigs and Littles plus their families. They gave all the kids an opportunity to earn Monopoly money and use it to go into a room and buy presents for their families that this company had provided. They then gave each of the 25 Littles a personal gift based on their individual interests. And finally, they gave each Little, 25 of them, a new laptop computer. The generosity shown these families that are enduring some hardships blew me away. And it made me angry. What business did these people have being part of God’s generosity? That is reserved for us, the godly people! It was God’s own generosity, coming from a company that I didn’t want it to come from. An epiphany. A surprise.
Pay attention for God’s epiphanies. They’ll surprise you. And they change you.
We recognize in a new way God’s forgiveness, then we are drawn more deeply to forgive.
We recognize in a new way God’s generosity, then we are drawn more deeply to be generous.
We recognize in a new way God’s mercy, then we are drawn more deeply into mercy.
Is your capacity for forgiveness increasing? Are you becoming more generous? Are you showing more mercy? Pay attention, because the good news is that God is doing these things in you and around you every day.
Pay attention. Be ready. The star of Bethlehem is even now shining in our lives. God is revealing God’s self—an epiphany. Watch for the star, God’s presence in your life, be surprised where you discover forgiveness, generosity, compassion. Then watch for God to allow you to have the ability to offer forgiveness, generosity, compassion. God’s love includes everyone. Even you. Jesus has come for the sake of everyone. Even you.