Celebration of the feast of the Epiphany (observed on Sunday).
Scripture for this Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:10-16; Ephesians 3:1–12; Matthew 2:1-12
There is something about an encounter with Jesus. It has a transforming effect. People find that their life’s journeys are re-routed, so that, like the magi who were warned in a dream, they go home by a different route.
However, all too often we find ourselves guided by our own assumptions, and we end up in Jerusalem, when we should be in Bethlehem.
Were the magi falling prey to assumptions, instead of following the star? “Jerusalem must be the place.” Do we do that in more general terms? Do we sometimes assume that we are sufficiently familiar with the road ahead to stop paying attention to the directions?
I encountered this temptation when I was on Highway 401 in Toronto a month ago: wondering why I was being directed by an App called Waze, that monitors traffic, to go from one set of lanes on the freeway to another. I soon came to realise that I was progressing rather more quickly than the jam-packed vehicles in the adjacent lanes.
We don’t have fourteen lane roads in Menorca, so it’s less of a problem. Nevertheless, sometimes thinking that we know best can have serious consequences. In the case of the magi, there were dire consequences – for others – from errors in following guidance. The Holy family may have been saved, but not the families with young sons.
One of the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis is founded upon this theme: The Silver Chair is about the consequences of failing to follow instructions properly. The quest is accomplished, but at a cost.
The story of the magi is about seeing symbolism turned upside-down: gifts brought by the wrong sort of people, seeming to indicate one thing, but radically altered by Jesus. Gold, for royalty, but manifest in servant leadership and vulnerability. Incense, for a priest, but one who sacrifices himself. Myrrh, for anointing for death, yet it is death that will die.
The deliverers of the gifts were themselves utterly out of place: why would Gentile astrologers, or whatever they were, seek a Jewish Messiah? The only real answer to that question is, “Why not?”
Following a spiritual SatNav means resisting the temptation to believe that we know the destination or the route, and being ready for God’s will to be contrary to popular expectations. The reward is to find ourselves in the presence of the one who can transform and enrich our lives.