Today, of course, we mark our last Sunday of the Christmas season. It will fully come to an end on Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, of course, is the Feast of the Three Kings which marks the first time the birth of Jesus is acknowledged by outsiders. These “wise men” have travelled from afar because they saw His star at its rising and have come to worship the new born King. We call it “epiphany” because this is a word that means literally “to reveal” and Jesus, the Son of God, has been in this moment revealed to the world.
There are wonderful Christmas hymns for this day, the best known, of course, is We Three Kings. But my favorite song for Epiphany is one you may not have heard of. It is by James Tayler and is called Home By Another Way. It is a song about the dream that the wise men had following their visit with Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dream that told them to avoid King Herod and seek a different route home.
This notion of moving in a new direction serves as a good understanding of what Epiphany is all about. Epiphany is about our call to change course in our lives and set our direction to the star that is Jesus. Just like the Magi, we have seen the star that called us to move towards Him. When the Magi saw that star they had no idea who Jesus was or what He would mean to the world. They were literally far from Him and made a choice to move in His direction. We too might find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we have always desired to know Jesus more intimately, more powerfully, more personally in our lives and yet have not come close. The star again calls us today. Maybe we have been hurt, wounded, or are sad or grieving and feel a great distance from Jesus today. Again, the star calls to us. Maybe our relationship with Jesus feels stagnant, like it isn’t growing or moving or changing, and we don’t know what to do to make it better. The star calls to us today.
Jesus wants to reveal Himself to each one of us today, just as He did to the wise men so long ago. And, He wants that revelation to change our very lives. We have to do our part and alter our course towards Him. Whatever parts of our lives have been distant – perhaps we have been full of anger or fear, anxiety or judgment. Perhaps we have old wounds and broken relationships that we’ve not tended to. Jesus wants to be the healing for all of the broken places in our lives.
Pope Francis in his homily for today said, “[The Magi] had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere. In the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us. To realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected, or perhaps desired, in a place where we so often refuse him. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned. That his strength and his power are called mercy.”
My friends, this is the “other way” that a living encounter with Jesus sends us. If we change our course to head towards the star, and there we encounter the real manifestation of God, we too will be sent home by another way. We too will be called to not take the road of self-fulfillment, but instead take the road of empathy, care and concern for others; the road of forgiveness, healing and hope.
Our beautiful manger scene is a perfect icon of this encounter. The manger reminds us exactly the way that God decided to come to earth and take on our human flesh. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter as a migrant on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the assistance of others if He were to complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.
God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle or even fail to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they too are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning; as He was as the Magi travelled to see Him? Every manger is an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their heads. And all over our city, you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of our manger are in fact the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is the new road our encounter with Jesus invites us to travel.
In a few days, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets will remain in the men and women who live there. The star shines brightly today guiding us to change our course and head toward Jesus – here in this Church as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament. And, when we leave this encounter, Jesus tells us as a dream told the Three Kings to have the courage to go home by another way, to embark on the path that opens our eyes and our hearts, our minds and our lives, to the presence of Jesus that we will suddenly see is all around us.
Let us be mercy, the forgiveness, the healing, the joy and the hope that the Baby Jesus came to bring to our world.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace!