I had an epiphany last year, and it just so happened to be on Epiphany! As I sat in church I glanced ahead to the gospel reading for the day, the visit of the Magi. I just caught the last few words of the reading, “…another road”. I don’t know why my mind went there; I know what the standard reading for this day is, but instead of thinking about the Magi, my thoughts shot to Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
It was an interesting mash-up, Emmaus and Magi. Was there something there?
Cleopas and his traveling companion were headed out of Jerusalem after the horrifying and confusing events of the crucifixion. There were rumors of glory, but that just deepened the mystery. They had met Jesus, the one they “hoped would be the Messiah”, but now they were on a new journey, a journey toward understanding. Jesus walked with them. Their hearts “burned”. But their epiphany didn’t come until Jesus sat with them and broke bread. (Lk. 24:13-35)
As I thought about this in relationship to the story of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12), I wondered what must have gone through their minds as they followed that star. Was it simply a diplomatic trip, or something much more? Was it a one-off event, or the beginning of something entirely new?
Many have speculated about what it meant when the Magi “knelt down and paid him homage.” And that’s all we can really do, speculate. But the Magi knew enough to listen to their dreams and not return to King Herod. They knew they were “overwhelmed with joy”, and I want to believe that their travels home were filled with questions, with wonder, and awe.
- The Magi were paying attention so that when they saw the star they knew it was time to travel. They journeyed, searching for this new-born King of the Jews. Cleopas and his friend likewise were paying attention. When Jesus arrived they knew enough to be present, to listen and learn, to even hope that he was the promised Messiah.
- Just as the Magis’ epiphany was not at their first sighting of the star, so Cleopas and his companion’s epiphany was not at their first sighting of Jesus but rather a later encounter with him in Emmaus.
- Like the Magi who were overwhelmed with joy at seeing the star stop over the place where Jesus lay, Cleopas and his friend’s hearts “burned within them” as Jesus opened the scriptures.
- And like the Magi, their epiphany led them down a new road. Oh, it was the same road from Jerusalem, but now it was totally different. On their way to Emmaus they insisted Jesus stay with them. It was late and the road was far too dangerous to travel at night. But now, after their encounter, after their epiphany, Cleopas and his friend immediately headed all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others. Everything had changed.
This season of Epiphany I wonder.
- I wonder how often we see the star and sit in the presence of Jesus, filled with joy but perhaps oblivious to the real possibilities. Confusing a feeling for a genuine epiphany, getting the good feelings but heading back down the same old road as before.
- I wonder about this word epiphany and if we can say we’ve had one if it doesn’t fundamentally change us.
- I wonder how often we seek an epiphany, the experience of an exciting new insight or discovery, and allow it to change us a bit, but aren’t paying enough attention to realize that God meant it to be not just one epiphany but a series of epiphanies carefully designed to help us move forward into a future of possibilities beyond our current ability to ask or even imagine. Do we settle for partial change?
- And I wonder whether we can truly grasp the epiphanies before us when we walk alone – for neither the Magi nor Cleopas traveled their paths in isolation. We are created for community.
Epiphany is not just a day but an entire season
Epiphany is not just a day but an entire season leading us to Lent. Epiphany is a journey, not just an event, and God gives epiphanies to us to bless and prod us along into becoming the people we are created to be. It’s helpful that this season falls in the new year of the western calendar. This is a perfect time to reflect on the epiphanies God gave the previous year and how we have allowed them to change us — or have resisted that change. Rather than making a bunch of New Year’s resolutions, what if we simply resolved to pay more attention and to more fully allow God’s epiphanies to change us?
This post first appeared on the Mustard Seed Associates blog in 2014