Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany – a feast day that has been celebrated in the church as far back as the 2nd century. It’s my second favorite feast day – only Pentecost trumps it.
The word “epiphany” is derived from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearing,” and the story of the wise ones who followed a star to the find the next king of the Jews is the story most closely associated with this feast day. Wise ones – outsiders – who followed a new and bright star that they believed would bring them to the new king.
It’s a great story. It has inspired hundreds of visual artists, important theology (no, the Christ Child did not come for a single group of people!), all kinds of wondering and imaginings.
This story is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. It does not tell us the exact number of wise ones that made the journey; we don’t know where they came from or how long the journey took – we don’t know if they had always known one another or if they simply bumped into each other as their paths crossed somewhere near Jerusalem. There’s a lot we don’t know- but there has been plenty of speculation.
Garrison Keillor, for example, is convinced that at least one of the wise ones was a Lutheran. I’m a terrible joke-teller – so I’m not even going to try explain it all – but it has something to do with the guy who brought myrrh which, according to Garrison, is actually a hot dish made from hamburgrrh…..
Yes, there has been a lot of speculation about the wise ones and though they are often referred to as kings, many scholars think they were most likely a bunch of itinerant magicians and entertainers – people who were commonly accepted as fools, in every sense of the word.
But who they were, where they came from, how many were in their party – none of that matters much – to me, anyway.
The thing that makes this such as powerful holy day in my opinion is all the verbs in the texts that are appointed for the day:
Clearly, this is not a celebration of a passive acceptance of something on the part of these characters. They did not stand in their respective backyards and simply look up night after night. They saw something and they started moving.
They traveled – probably a very great distance.
They did not notice something of significance and expect someone else to do something about it; they prepared themselves for the journey.
They were not always satisfied with their own observations; they asked questions of others.
They did not keep their emotions in check, but delighted in the experience of finding what they had looked for – they were awash with joy at discovering what they had longed for.
They used their bodies to communicate what was going on their hearts – kneeling in humble gratitude and worship.
They opened their hearts and their treasures – offering all they had – not to what they had most likely expected – a person of royalty – but rather, an infant – which, by my lights, takes a fair amount of faith.
This story reminds me of our story.
Many of us have felt a yearning for something more – something beyond ourselves – something extraordinary and we’ve looked for it. Watching for any light – even a dim one – that would help guide the way.
Many of us traveled great distances – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually as we searched for something we thought was possible – something that would satisfy not only our curiosity, but something worthy of our devotion.
Many of us have seen transformation in the life of another – a friend, co-worker, family member and that transformation has encouraged us to ask questions….and some of the answers we’ve heard have shown us a different path, a new way to be in the world.
Many of us have found companions on the journey – fellow travelers who are trustworthy and willing to walk beside us.
Today we are delighted to welcome back one of our companions, Jules Jodko , now Fr. Jules, to celebrate the Eucharist with us. Some of us have traveled long distances with him.
Fr. Jules and Fr. Nicholas first knew each other when Nicholas led a youth group in the Catholic Church in New Jersey more than three decades ago and were reunited just three years ago when they bumped into each other at a diocesan convention here in CT.
Jules and I met five years ago when we were in seminary together. I always marveled at his ability to show us all how to be servant-leaders – coordinating and spending countless nights tending to the men in our shelter, serving as community counsel president – showing the rest of us how to be a gentle yet strong voice for justice.
And many of you have been inspired to pursue new ministry in service to others because of his work here last year as a pastoral associate – a companion in mission.
And we have been blessed by the companionship of Anne – Jules’ wife – whose stubborn love and faithful support kept things real and moving forward.
For Jules and for Anne, and for all those who have helped point us in the right direction and walked beside us, we give thanks today.
So, let’s recap –
We have felt some kind of yearning – a longing for something beyond ourselves and we have taken time to look for it.
We have traveled long distances.
We have seen transformation and we’ve been humble enough to ask questions.
And we have found companions.
As we move toward our salvation may our gratitude for the Light shimmer with generosity.
May our joy in the Light cause us to dance – at least once in awhile.
May we find and be found by the Light who came and who comes to us as we are and where we are.
And may our stories – our lives – be full of the verbs of the wise ones: come, ask, observe, set out, see, be overwhelmed, kneel, worship, open, offer!
Arise! Shine! Your light has come!