Robservations on Epiphany
You know as a child, I remember there were a lot of different toys and gizmos that made my eyes play tricks on my mind. I had a pair of tennis shoes that made it look like a transformer was running on the side of my foot every time I moved. I had a book that showed several different optical illusions if I turned the book at different angles. On my wall was a picture that if started at long enough produced a 3D picture known as a Magic Eye. But the thing that made my eyes play tricks on my mind was the subject of movies, games, etc. You see, I spent hours straining my eyes looking for one little man who had somehow found his way into mountain scenes, street
scenes, onto the beach, and into the middle of several parades. Each time this little man somehow found a way to surround himself with people who looked very similar to him. This man’s name was Waldo and I spent much of my childhood asking the question, “Where’s Waldo?” Waldo is the creation of British illustrator Martin Handford, who had a challenge to create a character that would stand out but still hide in plain sight. And no matter how many times you go back to look at a “Where’s Waldo” piece, it’s still hard to find Waldo unless you’ve memorized where he is. But Waldo never changed places. Waldo is always in the same place hiding in plain sight even though we may have a hard time finding him.
And today, as we celebrate Epiphany, we are reminded that sometimes Jesus, too, is hiding in plain sight. Jesus is always there, but sometimes may be difficult to find.
In Matthew 2, there are two different mindsets. One mindset is selfless and the other is selfish. One has no problem finding the child. The other cannot find him.
Our story begins with a group of men who are often called kings, magi, wisemen, or astronomers. We’ve always been taught that there are 3 of them because there were 3 gifts presented. However, there could have been many more. Regardless, there are very intelligent and educated folks who are early scientists who have an understanding of patterns both on earth and the cosmos.
From various walks of life, of different perspectives, and of different races, these folks would study and calculate the different patterns of stars and celestial objects. They had the seasons and patterns of the world figured out until one day something extraordinary happens. We don’t know what it was. It could have been planets aligning. Some say it was a supernova when a star violently exploded and gave off enormous amounts of light. Others say that it could have been Halley’s comet. Regardless, something happened that threw them off their calculations.
We can assume that these people were folks of faith as well as they set off to find out what it was that set their calculations out of whack. Their calculations were so out of whack that it caused them to want to worship and so they began a journey.
Their findings were so significant that their journey sent them across deserts, through waters, over mountains, in snow, in heat, and in rain. We don’t how far East these folks came. What we know is that they rode for days, months, maybe even years to discover God hidden in plain sight.
And so they pulled into Judea and were soon face to face with another king, a king by the name of Herod. They see this king and ask him about another king. “Where is THE king” they ask...the king of the Jews. Herod is speechless. When he contains himself, he calls together those who know Scripture to ask them what these folks are talking about. They soon turn to Micah 5:2 which tells them that a child will be born in Bethlehem.
Soon we have a first glimpse of our two different mindsets. These wise people/these strangers/these faithful scientists who seek this new king are called into meet with the old king who seeks to destroy any competition he has.
Herod, the old king wants to meet the new king and so see these wise people as his way of getting to him. “When you find the child, let me know,” he tells them he, too, wants to worship him and sends them on their way.
And so back on their camels they go off to find this town of Bethlehem. The entire way, they follow this star until it stops suddenly.
The anticipation within them must have been overwhelming as they got down to find what they had been looking for. What would he be like? How would his parents accept them?
And they soon meet a young mother with her child.
And in verse 11, it says they knelt down to worship him. These folks who were some of the most revered and respected and richest in their villages stopped what they were doing, got down off of their animals, got down on their knees and worshipped him.
The literal Greek said they gave themselves to him. This move is often called the 4th gift of the magi. And I love this scene. These folks of different backgrounds, races, and possible even varying religious backgrounds worshipped this child.
Prior to this, people of certain ethnic backgrounds or parts of the world were expected to follow the religious norms. The deities and gods often resembled the people who worshipped them. However, here these people who were from the East (most notably probably Asia and Africa) worshipped the same God.
Jesus had opened up the minds, the eyes, and the limitations of who was used by God, who would worship God, and who was loved by God.
Jesus didn’t look like them nor did Jesus look like us and in this scene, the whole idea of who God could be was opened up.
It says then that once their gifts were given, they went on a new road. They went a new way home. No longer did they follow a star, for they had met the eternal light. No longer did they need to return home, for they had seen a new way. And they didn’t report to Herod for we find out that he would seek to kill the boy.
And we never hear from these magi again. Or maybe we do. Perhaps they were part of the first church. Perhaps they were ones who taught others about this Christ child.
But a question remains from this story: Can you find him?
Is our faith one of Herod or is our faith one of these wise folks?
Sure, we are quick to answer that our faith is one of the magi. But, how far out of our way are we willing to go to find Jesus? If we see Jesus, are we willing to go on another road? Are we willing to be made uncomfortable in the name of Jesus?
Or are we so caught up in maintaining our lives, our titles, or our perspectives that we can’t see Jesus hiding in plain view? Do our eyes play tricks on our minds so much so that we may be staring right at Jesus?
I think to the times I was working the food bank in Louisiana when I would discover Jesus on the other side of the window where I sat. Whereas my job was to provide and care and often provide some pastoral assistance, I would have people who would want to pray for me and want to minister to me. I found myself staring Jesus in the face in plain view.
I think of the times where I ministered among the mentally ill and would find myself sitting in dilapidated group homes saying prayers for people who would then turn the tables and pray for me. I realized then I saw Jesus staring at me in plain view.
I think of the time where I gathered with a dying church member with whom his best friends and I gathered to pray only to have him close the prayer by praying for each of us. Jesus was hiding in plain view.
I think of the days when I was a youth and I, too, served at the soup kitchen in Memphis where our youth still serve. I remember the conversation over table with folks who found more joy in life as person without a home as I did as a person with a home. Jesus hides in plain view.
My friends are we so caught up in wanting Jesus to think like us, vote like us, look like us and be friends with the people that we are friends with that we miss Jesus?
The word epiphany literally means a moment of sudden revelation or insight.
Those faithful ancient scientists known as the wise people had such a sudden insight that they didn’t think, they didn’t plan, they just went. They left their money, their books, their homes behind and went to a shivering mother and her child.
Those faithful magi had such insight that they didn’t do anything in the presence of Christ, they just worshipped him.
As we enter into the new year, my prayer for this church, for all of us is that we may be made so aware of Christ’s presence in our lives that we have our own epiphanies. My prayer is that we are willing to go out of our way to see Jesus and then after we see him my prayer is that we are willing to go a different route.
Friends, may your epiphany change your life. May your epiphany change your mind. May your epiphany change your opinions about others. May your epiphany allow others to see Jesus in and through you.
And may all of our eyes be opened so that we can find Christ hiding in plain sight. And when we see him, may we worship him, may we present all that we have to him, and then may we go home on another road.