Epiphany: Looking for God in all the wrong places

Yesterday I wrote about Twelfth Night, about how the Wise Men were nearly at the door of the stable, eager to see what lay on the other side. Well, today is Epiphany; the door is opened and we walk on up to the manger.

This moment has been a long time coming. Maybe things wouldn’t have taken quite so long if we hadn’t ignored the star and found ourselves wandering unaware down some dark deadends. There’s a whole star to follow, but we get seduced by our own assumptions, our own expectations.

I wrote at the beginning of Advent how I wanted to find Jesus again this Christmas. And I meant that, but so much was happening, so much to think and worry about, so much to pull me off course. And so I’m not sure I found Jesus again so much as gaining the knowledge that I still look for him in all the wrong places. It’s possible to miss the power and the glory of the Incarnation because we want Jesus to grow up and become a carpenter, just so we can ask him to fix our shelves.

Just a few miles from Bethlehem, the Wise Men stopped following the star and followed their own assumptions instead, ending up in Herod’s palace rather than God’s stable. And that mistaken conviction, that kings must be born in palaces, draws the attention of a paranoid despot and comes pretty close to wrecking everything. Because God’s not one for palaces, he’s more likely to be found in stables or tents in the desert. We should start looking for an Epiphany in places where Christ is, rather than where we think he should be. Look in the manger, not in the palace.

Of course, what we see – or rather, who we encounter – in that manger demands a response. We can’t see the vulnerability of God and the divine glory of a dozing infant without being changed. We came here as the result of one journey, but we, like the Magi, need to go home by another route.

Changing direction, getting on the right path, reorientating ourselves to a brighter star… These aren’t unusual metaphors for a faith journey. They’re the literal meaning behind the word ‘repent’, after all, the DNA in our pilgrimage. If we encounter Jesus in the manger we need to let the power of that encounter transform us and send us away from Bethlehem on a different path.

Here’s my confession: after all these years on the journey, I still look for Jesus in the wrong places, still expect him to meet my assumptions than transform them. I still need an epiphany, every day, an epiphany of the reality of Christ, not of who I’d like him to be. I need to be transformed by the arrival of Jesus in this world, and I need to allow some of the stuff I know about God to make its way into my heart.

Today is Epiphany, the stable door creads open and light leaks through the cracks into the cold and dark of a winter’s morning; the door creaks open, beckoning us forward. May each of us be transformed by what’s on the other side.

20+C+B+M+17

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