January 6, 2017
In the sense of its visionary yet beautifully impractical wondering and wandering, what a romantic story this is in Matthew 2:1-12. I am star-struck by the Magi astrologers who go on a trek across deserts from perhaps Persia or Arabia to seek out the new born King. Such a journey could have taken up to two years. What prompted such a sense of adventure? Just a star? Or was it the imagination of their hearts seeking the promise to which the star pointed?
How they got there doesn’t matter a whole lot. My mischievous side enjoys knowing that apparently some of the early Christian community was scandalized by the idea of the Magi following a star to Bethlehem. They worried that this feature of Scripture could give credence to a fatalistic reading of the stars and undercut the sovereignty of God. Of course we know that as the fly-fishing philosopher Henry Bugbee has said, “The tenets of scripture are meant to be occasions for wonder, not the termination of it.” Be that as it may, they got where they were going by their foolish wandering wondering. God is so good!
Some years ago I set off on my own fantastical journey to Calcutta, India, in the hope of discovering a renewed manifestation of God in my life. One of my stopovers was in Amman, Jordan. The only gift I took was myself. Little did I know at the time that just as the Magi did, I too would be gazing into a crib in a faraway place. The prayer that arose in me that morning was, “God, let me be out of control for you so that my security is in you alone.”
So I went into the “House of Joy,” as the local orphanage was known, to play with the children. They loved to play down on the floor-mats as many could not walk from war injury or other disability. They liked to have their legs rubbed and to play hand games which made them laugh. But that day I was directed to the crib where 18-month-old Josef was lying. He weighed 8 pounds. He had no legs and only stubs for arms. In the place of eyes were bulbous growths in a small misshapen skull. I was told his head contained nothing much more than a brainstem that kept his heart beating and lungs breathing.
As he was placed in my arms I was asked to feed him. As I did so I was broken and out of control. Where had God led me? As I held him and gazed into his grotesque yet strangely beautiful face, a deep peace and profound gratefulness, even joy, came over me. Of course he was Jesus. Just at that moment a Muslim man came up to me who had also appeared that day to be with the children. It was a Muslim holy day, and he said today this needed to be his prayer. He wanted me to know that he saw my tears and they helped him to pray. Jesus again. Jesus everywhere. For everyone. Epiphany indeed.