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Today, we celebrate the “epiphany” of Our Lord and begin the Epiphany season! That means, that we start off this year with a big “churchy” word that almost nobody uses or understands! What is an “epiphany” anyway?
Well, if you’ve been through this drill before, you may know that “epiphany” is a Greek word which means “manifestation” or “revealing.” And so, this day, and this season, is about the revealing of Jesus as God’s Son to the world.
And that’s fine. But here’s the problem. Too often, we think of this kind of “epiphany” like an old cartoon where a light bulb goes on over the head of a character who finally gets it! That is, it’s about figuring out a theological puzzle. Or perhaps it’s about finally seeing something that God wanted us to see. Or maybe it’s just about reading nice stories about how other people found out about Jesus.
But “epiphany” isn’t primarily about getting an idea about God right, or figuring out a theological puzzle. An epiphany is about having an actual, living experience of God in your life. It’s about an encounter with God that changes you. It’s about God becoming more than just an idea or a feeling.
And all of our epiphany Gospel readings somehow show us how the presence of God in Jesus became real, and made an actual difference in the lives of various people. But how did that happen? And how can it happen for us?
How is it that “epiphany” becomes a real and living experience of God? Well, it happens differently for different folks, but the story of these Magi give us an interesting insight. How is it that these unlikely pagan astrologers became some of the first people to have a living experience of Jesus in their lives?
It seems that, unlike many other people, these magi:
- Paid attention to what God might be saying – they saw the star, which clearly wasn’t noticed by anybody else; when they arrive in Jerusalem and ask about the child whose star they had seen, nobody says, “oh, that’s what that big bright star was all about! But they saw it, and wondered if some god, even a god they didn’t know, might be telling them something…
- Invested themselves in the search – they actually cared and thought about what this might mean. The got excited about it. And when they finally found Jesus, they were “overwhelmed with joy”, not because they had never seen a toddler before, but because they had invested what we might call “bandwidth” in this search, and therefore finding Jesus had come to have meaning and purpose…
- Were willing to get up and do something, even if it meant traveling a long distance to receive what God was offering. And that made them different from the many people who probably were happy to see what God was up to, if they could just sit back and watch the show from where they were spiritually, emotionally or physically …
These Magi, like others who had an actual experience of Jesus in their lives, didn’t just sit back and watch what God was doing. They weren’t content to let God remain a theological premise. And it wasn’t enough to have a warm fuzzy that somehow, someplace, there was a divine presence out there.
And that means that, as we read these stories, we shouldn’t be content to simply sit back and watch, marveling at how other people had these cool experiences. Instead, these stories are God’s call to us to invest ourselves in what God is doing in our lives, so that we also, become people who have real, living experiences of Jesus in our lives.
And like the Magi, having a real and living experience of Jesus is more likely to happen when we’re people who are willing to:
- Pay attention to what God is doing around us in our everyday lives, even to the little things that other people don’t notice … (this is how God often spoke to the prophets as well…) And it isn’t as though God is doing something secret that we can discern if we’re spiritually smart enough; it’s really about being open to how God could be using a thing that’s there anyway to open us up to something new … (maybe the star was just a comet that would have been there anyway, but the Magi were open to God using that star and that moment to point them in a new direction…)
- Invest ourselves in the search … we don’t know anything about these Magi, but I’m sure they had plenty to do; and plenty of people they needed to see; and not a lot of time to spend thinking about things that weren’t of immediate necessity. And yet, they made time. They found “bandwidth” for this new thing. And often, if we’re going to have a living experience of God in our lives, we need to do the same. And it’s not because God is being transactional, and not doing anything unless we put in the time and effort. It’s just that, like any relationship, it doesn’t have meaning unless you really invest yourself in it…
- Get up and do something different … I’m sure the Magi had lots of ways they could have “religious” experiences. But they saw something new and promising, and they were willing to go look for it, not simply to sit back and hope God would bring it to them. And often, that’s what gets in our way as well. We’re very willing to see what God is doing, but we sit back and say, “come on, God, bring it on!” After all, why can’t God just deliver it to where I am. I don’t want to have to get up and go get something (that’s why I have Amazon Prime and probably you do, too!) But often, if we want to have a real and living experience of God that actually brings joy, meaning and purpose to our lives, we need to get up and move ourselves, physically, spiritually or emotionally to a new place… (and that’s usually a lot harder than it sounds; but it’s often necessary…)
So as we read these stories of epiphany over the next few weeks, don’t be content to simply sit back and read the cool stories of how other people encountered Jesus. Instead, pay attention to what God might be doing in your life to point you in a new direction towards a living encounter with Jesus. Look for ways to invest yourself – your time, your money and your “bandwidth” – in that search. And be willing, like the Magi, to move yourself in a different direction in order to open yourself to a new and living encounter with Jesus.