Whenever I hear the word epiphany, images of kings and gifts fill my head. Flowing robes woven with golden threads, bejeweled crowns, camels bedecked with royal finery, and exotic offerings are all part of the picture. All sorts of stories unfold. They both entrance and invite their hearers into the mystery of that magical trio.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine a dusty ride across desert sands, its destiny determined by the light of a singular star. What sort of conversations might those astrologers of old have shared? Would they have expressed any doubts concerning their decision to trust their studies and follow them into the darkness of unknown territory?
Try as I may, I find it hard to put myself in their place. Perhaps the reason for my difficulty is that I have not gifted myself with enough time and space for silence. I have not entered the desert of solitude. Or is it that I have not examined my personal night sky to find and observe a rising star in it—one that would lead me to the newly born Christ?
Whatever the explanation, the feast remains to entrance and invite me—and you—into the mystery of becoming Magi.
The feast of the Epiphany beckons us continually to ask ourselves a probing question: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” It also asks that we live with one desire: to find the Messiah and give him homage. The question becomes the quest; the desire inspires the decision. Neither is easily accomplished. Both are crucial to Christianity, and the Magi mystery. Christmas is not complete without journeying into the night, following divinity’s light. Christianity is insufficient if it eliminates searching so that we might give Jesus homage wherever he may be found.
The gospel is preached in that journeying search. The gospel is discovered in the quest and the question, the desire and the decision. In the process, we become both the Magi who follow and the star that guides. It is an intriguing life, replete with excitement, enthusiasm, and danger.
Certainly, there will be astonishing moments of brilliance to give us pause, for God’s glory shines upon us: “Nations shall walk by our light and kings by our shining radiance . . . all gather and come to us; sons from afar and daughters in the arms of their nurses. We shall be radiant at what we see, our hearts shall throb and overflow” (cf. Is. 60:3–5). Were that not enough, there is more. “The riches of the sea shall be emptied out before us, the wealth of nations shall be brought to us . . . all shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Is. 60:5–6).
Each of us is to be an illuminating star in the night sky of a darkened world. This luminance will serve to lead others—enlightening all to gather together as brothers and sisters, members of the same body, sharers of the identical promise. Instead of remaining isolated, separated, and rigidly exclusive, we will recognize we are co-heirs. This luminance will invite sons and daughters of every age and level of experience to return, bringing the treasures of their journeying with them. Who they are and have become will have its own radiance, causing heart-throbbing awe and overflowing emotion. All is gift. All are richly gifted, and God’s praises are proclaimed.
This would seem to be the best of all possible worlds. How could there be any dissension, dismay, or destructive disabling in such a universe? How could it be? We see the devastation demonstrated daily in power plays that abound. Whether the “world” is a family or a business, workplace or church, there are envious “Herods” who pretend to be searchers and questioners but are really only interested in preserving their position. Theirs is not a desire to find where the newborn Jesus lives in order to do homage, but only to discover and destroy the infant Savior before life’s breath can warm cold existence into vitality!
Are we not our own Herods at times? Instead of following the star placed in the sky of our psyche, our spirited soul—and embarking on a personal quest to find Jesus newborn in us—we choose a “pretend pilgrimage.” Maintaining a demeanor of sincere interest, we say all the right words to those who could bring us closer to God, but have only self-interest in mind. When our own reign of power is threatened by the potency of innocence, we take on the appearance of seekers of divinity—but are truly concerned with searching to destroy. God’s manifestation among us falls prey to the manipulation of others, in the name of God!
It is not a pretty picture, nor is it a pleasant reality to ponder. We are our own Herods—until and unless we accept, receive, embrace, and actively participate in the mystery of the Magi. God’s presence will be visible when each of us individually, and all of us in community, give time and effort to studying the star of God’s spirit in us. Only then will we recognize that we are already empowered to embark on our perilous but promising pilgrimage across arid deserts and into bustling cities. Only then will we discover our inspirited self comes to a starry standstill over the place where the savior lives. To enter that manger palace is to take part in an epiphany event. It is to experience God made manifest among us and find that Christ lives in the strangest places.
Once experienced, there is no choice but to return from whence we came, but using a different route. All is the same; everything is changed. Enlightened, amazed, filled with joy, prostrate with homage, those who embrace the mystery of the Magi find splendor in the darkness of night. They realize the grace of golden giftedness.
Those who caress Magi mystery fill the world with the aroma, the pungent fragrance, of people who take risks and follow Spirit-led stars. They also bear bitter myrrh—the knowledge that going home will often demand taking a different route.
We are invited to be stars of wonder, stars of might, stars of royal beauty bright, still proceeding, guiding to the perfect light. We are asked to be Magi in the third-millennium world, stalwartly searching, wandering far, following as we lead, leading as we follow . . . called to go home by taking a different route. Awesome and awe-ful, it is an entrancing invitation—into Magi mystery.
Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, as well as a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.