EPIPHANY Year C 2022
Journeying with the Magi ©Jeni Nix 2022
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Here we are again at the beginning of another new year, with our hopes and dreams for something better than 2021. Did anyone make a list of New Year’s Resolutions? How are they going so far? Have you lost five kilos yet? How’s your new fitness regime going – are you ready to run that half-marathon next week? What about that long list of books you’re determined to read this year – finished the first one already?? We in this white Western world are creatures of achievement, feeling a deep need to set goals to attain to, hoping to feel successful, improved and fulfilled when we get there.
And whilst it is healthy to have reasonable dreams and achievable ambitions to become the best versions of ourselves in body, mind and soul – often setting ourselves a certain timeframe for this – the enthusiasm of our new beginnings often wanes as we strike challenges or roadblocks along the way. Disillusioned, we can eventually give up on our dream or goal and fall into despair when it seems to become unattainable… We come to 2022 with possibly more trepidation than ever about our near future and the year ahead, with freshly opened state borders, a new rampant Covid variant and case numbers rising frighteningly fast. In the last two weeks of 2021 I personally have heard numerous folk – including steadfast, faithful Christians – lamenting their lack of hope and joy for the year ahead in the midst of Covid unknowns and other recent tragic events.
And so maybe, instead of projecting to where we want to be this time NEXT year and laying heavy expectations on 2022, it might be more helpful to approach this New Year as a continuing journey, taking one day at a time and seeing how it unfolds. Just as the Magi travelled to meet the child Jesus on this day in our calendar, our traverse to Christmas Day has also been a journey of experiences and discoveries on the way to the ‘destination’. Woven together, the occasion of Jesus’ birth was the culmination of a holistic journey of small, progressive events. Joseph and Mary discovered each other and became engaged; Elizabeth became impossibly pregnant in her barrenness and age; Mary travelled to her cousin’s place to share baby stories and probably – in reality – some fears about their lives ahead; Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem and gave birth to the baby son of God. We here in church have followed these stories and paralleled them with a progressive lighting of the Advent candles.
If we sit for a moment with the details of each of these small events in the lead-up to Jesus’ birth, we find that in each one, what seemed like a lovely hope-filled circumstance sooner or later experienced some sort of interruption to its expected course. Mary and Joseph’s pre-marriage relationship encountered the ‘smallest’ of hitches in their plans when an angel told Mary she would bear the holy Christ child; Elizabeth couldn’t possibly have foretold that hubby would be mute for awhile because he argued with an angel; and I seriously doubt even the humble and accepting Mary was prepared for the possibility of birthing God Incarnate ironically but appropriately in a dark winter stable amidst warm, servant animals… Just like us, all of these characters came up against something in their passage of life plans that provided roadblocks or diversions to what they foresaw and hoped for on their horizons.
Today in our Gospel our wonderful Magi have finally reached the child Jesus and worshipped him. The Wise Mens’ pilgrimage had only one goal – to find Jesus and honour him as newborn King of the Jews. And whilst their ultimate aim was achieved, their journey was not without its own challenges. Alongside magical arts, dream interpretations, divination and potion-making, these Magi were experienced in astrology, and so we don’t tend to question their abilities to interpret the appearance of the travelling Star – this unfamiliar and unusual astronomical phenomena and its influence on the human narrative. However, these non-Jewish men from the East also originally belonged to a Priestly caste in Persia, and so their presence in Jerusalem, faithfully seeking to find and worship the King of the Jews, carried the added weight of a significant political disturbance to Herod’s kingship.
The Magis’ one goal was to find Christ. They believed in their calling to follow the star to him, however the journey might unfold. They were willing to share with others who they were looking for and why. And they were open and receptive to hearing the message of the angel who warned them not to travel back through Jerusalem. Their trip home was side-tracked away from their original path but they were obedient to God’s guidance, risking the wrath of Herod to protect the Christ child and his family.
To some extent all of us have been side-tracked and had to ‘pivot’ in the past two years of a worldwide virus that has thrown us off-course over and over again. How many times have we made plans and preparations, only to find ourselves suddenly roadblocked and having to find a totally different way to achieve something, often in an incredibly short space of time? Those in positions of leadership of communities have often become particularly exhausted as their capacity to quickly re-think and re-work for the good of many has been strained and stretched. And yet, this demand for pivoting – suddenly changing direction – has also engendered a new, greater resourcefulness for many, growing in ways we never imagined. And so what might 2022 look like if we loosened our grip on the dreams, hopes and expectations we have, holding them more lightly and being more willing to travel our road ahead in the unpredictable leading of the Spirit? What if, instead of hard and fast destinations of achievement, we decide that our one quest for 2022 is to seek and find a closer relationship with Jesus within every aspect of our lives? The Learned Scholars from the East ventured out searching for Jesus not just trusting in their own understanding of the stars, but also trusting God’s guidance and calling into the unknown. In Lord of the Rings, we hear the message – “not all those who wander are lost”. Just because someone likes to explore doesn’t mean they are literally lost – those who choose an open life of adventure are usually mentally and spiritually prepared for the unpredictability and surprises of the journey.
Are we willing to follow God’s leading into what seem to be distractions that may take us away from our chosen paths? Are we open, willing and ready to be side-tracked by the guidance of the Spirit into circumstances that may benefit not only the realm of God’s world and those around us, but also ourselves, despite how uncomfortable or confronting this side-track might look like to us? Nadia Bolz-Weber challenges us with this new Year blessing – “May you expect to get so little out of 2022 that you can celebrate every single thing it offers you, however small.” In this life with our unfathomable God there are no guarantees that our frail human capacity will succeed in attaining our goals and dreams. And at times our future will look like a seemingly endless horizon of loss and emptiness, with no direction to cling to or work towards. But we, like the Magi, are called to hold fast to the one goal of seeking Christ closer in every aspect of our lives, trusting in the deep, unfailing presence with us of the Christ who was, and always is, and always will be to come.