heading towards epiphany...

(NOTE: I am indebted to Barbara Brown Taylor's Epiphany sermon in Home by Another Way for this reflection.)


Tomorrow we share our yearly "Epiphany Pageant: - a retelling of the Christmas story with the arrival of the Magi - and our youth (and maybe a few children and adults) will bring it to life during Sunday worship. We have assorted costumes, lots of Christmas carols and just enough unintended humor to make it all hang together and worth our while. I was certain no one would show up for practice today, but we wound up 12 youth and assorted parents. So in the morning I will recruit a few "volunteers" to stand in as shepherds and we'll have a jubilee!

While we're costuming the children, I will offer a few thoughts for the adults. My main point is simple: most of the stories of faith are not about facts but truth. The Three Kings, or Wise Men, or Magi are a case in point:

+ There's a whole lot of folk tradition guiding the narrative when it comes to those some have named Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar - but very little history - because the point has to do with wisdom and changed hearts, not facts.

+ This story is saturated with symbolism:  it presents grand visual images of the great reversal promised by grace. The old come to worship the infant, the Gentiles from Persian, Arabia and India pay homage to a Jewish Messiah, the political elite are terrified of losing power while the "new born king" lays sleeping in a manger. It is all upside-down kingdom stuff, archetypes not science, a living invitation into a love greater than both information or imagination. It is all about scrambling our expectations so that we might be nourished by God.

So rather than explain the mysteries of the Lord, we tell stories of a great light shining in the darkness. We sing songs about the great storm being over and alleluia to the new born king. We focus on the gifts and the celebration and search for truths deeper than comprehension. Because like Barbara Brown Taylor puts it:, most of us are searching for another way home.

It's not  facts don't matter. It is just that they don't matter as much as the stories (and songs) do, and stories (and songs) can be true whether they happen or not. You do not have to do archaeology to find out if they are genuine, or spend years in the library combing ancient texts. There is another way home. You just listen to the story. You let it come to life inside of you, and then you decide on the basis of your own tears or laughter whether the story is true. If you are in any doubt, it is always a good idea to watch other people who have listened to the story - just pay attention to how the story affects them over time. Does it make them more or less human? Does it open them up or shut them down? Does it increase their capacity for joy?

That's what the Magi received, right? Openness - joy - a more human way of embracing
life. They were learned and spiritual men who brought gifts of homage, but something things changed and they themselves began to return thanks to God for the gift the Christ -child gave them. And Jesus doesn't DO anything in this story. He's a baby, for God's sake.  But when his mother Mary picks him up and passes him around to the Wise Men - and they hold him - something is unlocked in their hearts. And they rejoice.  In the morning, when they are set to return, they realize that they can't go home through Jerusalem any more. It isn't safe. It doesn't work. They need a new way home - and they are thrilled, not terrified, with this change of heart.

So without really understanding how this is going to work, they do two more things before leaving.  They probably hold and kiss the baby one more time - reveling in the innocence and vulnerability of the Christ Child - and then head home by a different way telling one another the story of this holy night. "This story," one of them probably said, "matters more than anything else I know..." So, like them - whatever we call them - we gather to tell it again knowing that we are all searching for a new way home.

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