Christmas IV – Epiphany
2018 – Cycle ABC
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a; 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Have you ever sought out Jesus?
Or is that a strange question to pose to a group of believers?
You might reply, why would I need to seek out Jesus? I am a believers! I’m baptized!
I am reminded of the remark made by Jesus to the crowd in regard to the centurion who requested that Jesus heal his servant: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” [Luke 7:9] Can you imagine what it was like for a centurion of the Roman Empire the greatest political power on earth to ask help from a Jewish peasant? His emperor was the divine Tiberius. His dying slave, though valuable, was property? Could the centurion not afford another piece of property?
It has always struck me as very curious – insightful? – that the church put the words of this same centurion into our mouths just before we approach to receive the living Jesus in Holy Communion: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, I am not worthy to have enter under my roof.” [Luke 7:6]
The humility and courage of a Roman centurion. The humility of priest – astrologers from Persia asking for directions. The centurion has a trust in Jesus that Jewish – or Christian believers do not always or often manifest. Priest – astrologers have an ability to look and see and a wisdom that is no found in believers who remain blind and unaware. Believers of other truths can often teach us about the spiritual journey and challenge our own insular preconceptions. “Why would I need to seek out Jesus?”
Is it not interesting that the only person who does not go to search for Jesus is the Jewish King Herod. He wants someone else to do it for him, “Go and search…when you have found him, bring me word.” Though gathering for worship, service and support is essential for Christians, we each still must head out on our own along the road to seek out Jesus. No one can do this for us. The Christian spiritual life is at once personal, I might say, solitary and communal. The important word is “and”.
Too bad Herod did not join the magi.
I have had a feeling lately that this year Jesus wants to hurry us on quickly to Lent. Consider Advent was a brief three weeks. The Christmas Season is barely two weeks, concluding Monday at sunset. And five weeks from this Wednesday is Lent. It will be ten weeks since we will have rededicated our church when we will be marked with ashes and called to turn away from our sins. Why the rush, Jesus? What might Jesus have in store for us?
This year Ash Wednesday curiously coincides with Valentine’s Day. Regrettably no longer – Saint – Valentine’s Day but nevertheless. Whether the day commemorates a Roman priest – martyr who is killed for ministering to people in prison or medieval courtly love where the beloved seeks out the object of their affection, might Ash Wednesday this year be experienced as God seeking us out. Have you ever had the wonderful feeling of someone seeking and pursuing you to enter a relationship, a friendship? This is a reversal from centurions, magi and shepherds seeking Jesus out.
As Jesus is seeking us out. The magi offer those of us who want to seek out Jesus some basic lessons.
Whether you are traveling by foot, by camel, by car, or in your mind – it is very important to seek guidance along the way. Ask questions. Ask for directions! Be open to getting lost. Use scripture to seek confirmation of what you see and learn. Join a prayer or study group. Reflect on your experience. Be willing to be surprised. That’s what an epiphany is! A “Eureka!” moment.
The story ends ominously, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod”…to seek out Jesus will mean you can never return to the way you were…”the magi departed for their country by another way.”
T. S. Eliot imagined the thoughts of the magi when they returned home: “We returned to our places…but no longer at ease…with an alien people clutching their gods.”* Jesus will not make our life comfortable. We will be ill at ease even among family and friends. We will no longer fit into a world not committed to Jesus. We will notice false gods all over the place. Nothing will be the same.
Have you ever sought out Jesus?
*T. S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi”