This morning an inky dark sky yielded the brilliance of a sparkling crisp full moon just glowing into dawn’s twilight. It was cloudless, perfectly clear. And it was also the morning of the celebration of the Epiphany, an almost ironic close to the Christmas season. In a church with a scattered population in wide set pews, holiday decorations still stood and the familiarity of Christmas carols somehow bound everyone together. And yet, the treasure of the past weeks was still emerging.
The young priest’s homily spoke of his bafflement at the reception he received in a local Catholic high school, and he won chuckles from an appreciative audience. He expanded on it, heading past the historical conflicts around the story of the three kings to the essence of the message…..their gifts, their giving. And as the crowd exited, a student at that school edged closer and told him that she, and her friends, had heard his message and appreciated it. He laughed, and I realized she had actually just lived his message: she was giving something she had received. The intellectual issues around the story were not as relevant as the reality of the way we live in this age, with these challenges and with the message of this story.
The story bears so many other connotations: there is the star, for instance. Its allure has been unrivaled, even by that sparkling moon. And it is impelling somehow, like the intensity of intuition and the power of synchronicity in the universe. Following the depth of what you know to be right is a second message embedded in the words: it is life-giving, kind and deeply personal. That is reaffirmed by the dream that warned the kings not to return to Herod. While there is, as the young priest noted, a Harry Potter magnetism to the story, there is also that sense that we as humans are given and possess powerful intuition, the divine spark and the ability to follow through on all that.
There are moments in life when the pause to wait and to capture, for even a moment, the beauty of the divine, is its own reward. There are moments when working for that, towards that, is essential, yet that can only be discovered through keen insight and self-awareness. And there is the reality that as the wise men disappear from the narrative of Jesus, so we disappear from the pages of history. What we do and how we do it lingers behind us, though. And for the wise men, so much was left behind.
Theirs was a story of humility, patience, recognition and hope. In a world that was broiling over with conflict, their mission, scraped into the pages of the Gospel, shows the extent of hope that the life of a child offers, that a new beginning was what mattered and that they were each willing to risk for it, to take a chance, and to dare to bring a gift. Their hope enables us to ask ourselves, “What do we hope for? What are we seeking? What matters? What am I willing to risk?” And so they wander through our imaginations anchored only by the Nativity sets and their caricatures.