I love the story of the family driving to grandpa and grandma’s for a Christmas get-together. As they passed the Episcopal church where a manger scene was in the yard, the five-year old boy asked about the meaning. “That is Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, there in the manger,” the mother explained.
A few blocks further on they passed the Methodist church, where a scene depicted the journey of the Wise Men. “Who are they? The boy asked.
His mother replied, “Those are the Wise Men, who are looking for the Baby Jesus.”
“Well,” the boy said, “they won’t find him there. He’s down at the other church.”
Epiphany is here, the season of the star and three magi who followed its light to find the Christ Child. They are the image of mankind’s yearning, hoping, searching for God. They weren’t Jews. They had no idea who this “king” was, whose birth the new star presaged. But somehow they dropped everything and set out to find their heart’s longing. They went to the wrong place—Jerusalem. But you can’t blame them. If you were looking for an infant king, you’d head for the royal city, for the palace. The ancient prophecies led them finally to the little rural village of Bethlehem, just about the last place you’d look to find royalty. But there Christ lay.
Epiphany is all about following some star. Every human being yearns and longs for something transcendent, something powerful, beautiful. We seek the One who, having been found, satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” we sing.
But there’s something kind of lighthearted about Epiphany, the Magi and their knobby-kneed camels. Because we don’t really know who these seekers are. Royals? Or just petty astrologers who stumbled onto something bigger than a daily reading? All that matters to the gospel writers is that they’re not Jews—they’re foreigners, pagans, and yet they have enough sense to know when they’ve met the once and future King. It’s one of the oddest and yet most brilliant stories in the whole New Testament.
So I pray for a star, yes—but with a slight smile, maybe even a chuckle. What crazy illumination could actually bring me into the Presence? What silly shining thing could somehow signal Glory? Epiphany is a wacky season for me—a time when I open myself to suggestions that I would normally toss off as ridiculous.
And for that reason, it’s also a season when I rely on close friends and advisors to tell me what they think—even if it seems odd or unusual or just dumb. I want to listen. Because in these star-struck daze you just never know. One thing I know, it’s a lot easier to follow the star in the company of other seekers. (That may be why magi come in threes.)