Scripture for Epiphany: Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.10-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12
When my parents went on a journey, my father would drive and my mother would navigate. This mostly worked well. Mostly. Occasionally, directions would get a little misplaced; sometimes maps were not quite true to reality. Once they found themselves driving across a field of sheep which connected two roads that looked like one on a map.
The Epiphany is about journeys, routes and directions: specifically, about two journeys of discovery. The first was to seek the Christ child, the one born to change radically the life of Israel – a birth so intriguing that foreign, Gentile astrologers made a special journey to find him. Unfortunately, they misread their directions and instead of traversing a sheep-field, they found themselves in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. This had dire consequences for innocent children and their families. Nonetheless, God’s purpose was accomplished: the child was found and revered by Gentile prophets. Their gifts symbolise the Gentile world’s acknowledgement of Christ as ruler, priest and sacrifice.
The second journey was the return trip. Whatever they had planned, they had to respond quickly to a warning and find a different way home. What they did was, in effect, civil disobedience: strangers in a foreign land disobeying instructions from its governor.
These two journeys have parallels in our own lives. While God does seek us, humans have a choice in terms of how to respond to the seeking God. Somewhere along this pilgrimage of life, we can encounter Jesus, but like the Magi, not necessarily in a place that we would expect.
This journey of seeking has its equivalent to the return journey of the Magi. The encounter of the Magi with a poor child born into humble surroundings in vulnerability must have caused them to ask themselves what they had been expecting and why they had been expecting it. They must have asked themselves: “What were we looking for?”
In our life’s pilgrimages, it may take us a while to meet the God who seeks us anyway, in the person of the Christ who is to be found amongst humility and poverty and need, not so much in prosperity and power. Once we have experienced this Epiphany (for that is what it is), we will find ourselves drawn away from former paths, returning via a different route.
Our journeys are often made more difficult than necessary by our tendency to presume that we know the way ourselves, leading us astray. The God who is constantly seeking to connect to us must laugh at our pursuit of difficult routes – except when we cause others to suffer because of our choices. Because we need to remember that the consequences of erroneous choices may inflict suffering on others, often innocent ones.
Paying attention to detailed directions, however we receive them, and taking the trouble to discern God’s will for us, may help us to avoid the spiritual equivalent of driving across sheep fields.