When the Magi embarked upon their journey they were following what they perceived to be an omen, an overly large, too-bright-to-be-normal star often referred to as the Star of Bethlehem. To them it was a sign that something special was about to happen, and in fact, they believed it would lead them to an important king who would be newly born. They were not Jewish and so their faith was such that they believed that the stars could portend omens of this sort. They were seeking this important person by following where the omen-star led them. We know that they bore gifts for this great king-to-be-found, and we know that when they got to Bethlehem they were able to find the stable where Jesus was indeed a newborn. But what they found was not exactly what they had expected when they began the journey: the king they found was the Son of God. It seems that they believed and that they did Him homage, offering up their precious gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. The epiphany that they received, at least the obvious one, was a new understanding of God and how He works. They came to find that the King in the manger was greater than any king they could have hoped to find. From this revelation and whatever else they needed to receive, their eyes and their hearts were opened to a new reality which changed them forever.
An epiphany can come in any way God wants to send it, but I daresay that a true epiphany is something that we have to be prepared to receive. Just as we had four weeks in Advent to prepare for the ‘arrival’ of Jesus, we have had the subsequent days of the Christmas season to prepare for whatever it is that God wants to reveal to us in our encounter with Him. Lest we forget, the process of waiting and yearning does not stop with the arrival of Christmas. In fact, the lesson here is that we never stop waiting and yearning until we arrive at our true home with God forever. If we stop this process, we will cease to receive the subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which God reveals Himself and His mercy to us. And like the Magi we must follow the star to the stable, but we must leave by a different route as we take what we have learned out into the world, continuing to seek ways to live this newness.
Perhaps this Epiphany we are called to be like the Magi focusing on three things: whatever it is we seek in Jesus, what it is we bring to Him, and what we take away with us. Whatever it is we seek in Jesus, it is right in the manger where He lays. He is Mercy, Compassion, Light, Truth, Wisdom, Comfort, Forgiveness, Life, and Love, to name only some of His attributes. All that we seek is found in Jesus, so we can follow the Star which leads us to Him. Once we come to the manger, we can let Him reveal to us what He knows we really need. Next, what do we bring Him? Hopefully it is a heart which is emptied and ready to be filled anew. The only thing we can really give Him is ourselves, imperfect though we are. Finally, what do we take away with us? When the Magi left their precious gifts at the feet of the tiny Baby, spending time adoring Him, certainly they left with more than they had when they arrived. The greater gifts were not the material things they brought, (symbolic though they were), but rather what they came away with. In any encounter with the living God we always come away with gifts of grace. So then, whatever it is we seek in Jesus, know that in our encounter with Him during this Christmas season, whatever it is we seek in finding Him, whatever it is we bring to Him, we come away with the greater gift. No matter what it is He gives us, to each it will be what we uniquely need, not some generic one-gift-fits-all kind of thing. And no matter what epiphany He gives us, we will walk away from the manger on a different path, richer for the meeting, because we will be changed. There is no going back the way we came. That path is no longer possible.
May we persevere in our journeying with Christ! May our hearts be open to the epiphany which the Lord has as a gift for us! May we have the courage to ask for what we seek! May we have the humility to offer our gift of self to the Lord! May we have the trust to take a new path, knowing that He comes with us! May we be like the Magi with the wisdom to discern what is from the Lord and what leads us on the road to danger! May we be willing to invite those who do not yet know Jesus to accompany us on the journey to the manger! And may we accept the gift God has for us, so we may truly be wise men and women open to sharing His oceans of mercy with those whom we meet! Let us meet on the journey into the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
-The reference in both the title of this entry and the last sentence of the second paragraph from the end is to Isaiah 60:5.
The first painting is the work of Giotto. It is called Adoration of the Magi.
Next is an icon called The Holy Family for the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The original hangs in Bethlehem, Israel as the title indicates. You can purchase a copy at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-family-for-the-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-william-hart-mcnichols.html or if you like the framed border at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-family-for-the-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-with-frame-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Next is the Magi arriving near Bethlehem. I have no idea who painted this because it came to me on a Christmas card a number of years ago.
Last is actually a tapestry, not a painting. It is The Adoration of the Magi by Edward Burne-Jones, designed in 1888 and woven in 1894. It can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry.png. This work is in the public domain in the U.S.