A Reflection on the Epiphany
For me, the Feast of the Epiphany is both about growing in wisdom and new beginnings. Maybe one of the reasons is that I defended my doctoral thesis on this day eight years ago, ready to move to Berlin the next day: wisdom, or maybe better learning, and a new beginning.
Of course, the themes of beginnings and wisdom don’t only resonate rather inadequately with my own story, but are key elements of the Christmas story itself as well. In Matthew’s Gospel, lacking the shepherds, the Magi are the first to adore the Christ child, being ‘overwhelmed with joy’ as soon as they see that the star stopped where the child was to be found. Coming from a distant country and culture, they are the first to recognise the new-born baby for who he is and will be. Not only are they the first to recognise him, but also they are the first to worship him by paying him homage and offering him gifts.
It is not quite clear who the Magi were. Some think they were astrologers, whereas others believe that they were kings. No matter their label, they were rich, learned and Gentiles. However, what is maybe even more important, is that they were able to trust what they saw: first the star they had seen at its rising, and later the house and the child with Mary, his mother. Instinctively, one could say, they new what they saw and they knew how to respond, and I am sure that they were changed by this experience.
Reflecting on the Magi, it is a remarkable journey they made: from a distant land, where they presumably had a status and identity, into the unknown, following their hearts more than their minds. It is a journey of letting-go, and through that obtaining an understanding beyond bare knowledge. Maybe one could say that true wisdom is the ability and willingness to do precisely that: to know when to trust the unknown, to know when the time is to travel and when the time is to stop and see.
Apart from wisdom, this journey into the unknown takes courage, perseverance and hope. More often than not, I have embarked on such a journey rather unwillingly, more out of necessity than free choice, and I suspect that may be true for some others too. My journey eight years ago started by moving to Berlin, a city in which I by then knew no-one. It started by making designing an experiment to make cold molecules and have them collide. Now, I am ordained as an Anglican priest, working at a public school and in a few moments coaching my first Netball game … It certainly has been a journey into the unknown!
I have enjoyed many things along the road, and more importantly, have met a lot of fellow-travellers, friends, who were travelling their own journeys to their own destinations. Just as the Magi, also we, having reached our destination, have to realise it is only temporary: we cannot stay. Having seen and worshipped the Christ child, the Magi leave again, for their own country, but taking another road. Also we, having had the occasional experiences of arriving at our destination, have to travel onwards: every destination holds a new beginning.
Our story becomes interwoven with the countless stories of others. All our journeys, all our stories make up the story of Emmanuel, God with us. This in turn means that our story is held by all the other stories surrounding us, just like the threads in a fabric both support each other and simultaneously make up the fabric itself. So although we travel in the unknown, we don’t travel into empty space, but we – so to speak – weave our own thread into the rich fabric of life.
I would like to end this reflection with a Sonnet for Epiphany by Malcolm Guite, which sums up far more articulately than I can the thoughts I have tried to express:
A Sonnet for Epiphany, by Malcolm Guite
It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.
Malcolm Guite (malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/a-sonnet-for-epiphany-6/)