Today is the day for remembering the astronomers/astrologers who followed a star to find the Christ Child. Contrary to Christmas pageant tradition, the Magi didn’t show up on Christmas day or any day soon after: enough time had passed for them to reach Bethlehem by way of Jerusalem and for Jesus to grow from a baby to a child (Matthew 2:1-12). While tradition holds that there were three of them (Casper, Melchior, Balthazar), it doesn’t mention their names or numbers in the Bible. It seems that there are a lot of things that have been read into this story over the past two thousand years, and it isn’t easy to read this sacred story without all the additions and assumptions.
Epiphany in the capital E church sense is a revelation or manifestation of the divine, in this case the revealing of the Christ child to holy travelers outside the Jewish faith. My visual for an Epiphany is a brilliant shaft of light parting the clouds. It’s a beautiful image, even if it’s a cliche.
In the lower case sense, epiphany can mean an illumination, a sudden grasp of truth, and the revelation of something essential revealed or understood. I guess the light-bulb-over-the-head is the cliche image, but it’s not one I can claim. I don’t really have a static picture for it, but I do have a couple of moving ones. The first is looking through a kaleidoscope – seeing the fractured colors become identifiable flowers or figures with a quick aligning turn. What made no sense seconds earlier falls into place and I see its structure and beauty. Two others: adjusting telescopes and microscopes to see what is too big or far away and what is too small or too much a part of me to grasp. In all cases, it’s a change of perspective – a new look at reality that allows me to grasp an essential truth or be grasped by an essential truth.
Like the Magi, I won’t see God-with-Us without leaving behind the comforts and assumptions of home. Epiphany and epiphanies only come when I’m willing to journey beyond my present understandings of God, world, self, and neighbor. Today is as good a day as any to hit the road…
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. C.S. Lewis
(quoted in Daily Peace: Photos and Wisdom to Nourish Your Spirit, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2015, January 1)