Today is a major Christian holiday that most of us know nothing about.
It’s called the Feast of the Epiphany. You maybe recognize that word epiphany. Think of an “aha” moment, an experience of discovery.
The word epiphany literally means “manifestation.” It’s an awakening when something hidden comes into view. It’s made manifest – you can finally see it, you understand something mysterious.
For Christians, we remember the Magi (The Wisemen – Matthew 2:1-12) who visited the young Jesus and his family in Bethlehem. We’re so used to standing three kingly figures in our Nativity sets that it hardly shocks us anymore. But it’s remarkable: pagan astrologers packed up and went on a journey following a star, only to find themselves staring down at a baby and worshiping.
Christ was manifested to the Gentiles. Outsiders. Wow! Those we would last suspect God might love. Surprise! They strike out on a journey to find Truth and are welcomed by the baby. Epiphany.
I read today that since the newly elected President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte took office a few months ago, more than 6,000 people have been killed in his campaign to purge the Philippines of drugs. A photographer captured chilling photos of bodies in the street, in homes, in cars. Police and other hitmen are hired by the government to shoot and kill drug users. The pictures show children crying by their father’s caskets. One man was shot through the window of his home while eating dinner with his family, leaving six children. It is sending a strong signal. If you use drugs, you are not welcome here and we want to kill you.
Then I think of my friend Sara. A sweet girl in our student ministries a few years ago, she got in with the wrong crowd and made choices you hope no young person will make. Those decisions led her on a downward spiral through addiction, pain, loss, and a tremendous struggle for her life.
Sara was the kind of person President Duterte would like to kill.
While she was a homeless, addicted prostitute in Baltimore City Sara became pregnant. Through God’s mercy, her baby became her salvation. The baby kept her from being imprisoned. The baby gave her hope and strength to rely on God and reach for his help.
God’s people from Mountain did not take the same approach as the President of the Philippines. Rather, in the spirit of Jesus, we loved on Sara, waited with Sara, worked with Sara as she struggled through false starts toward recovery. Sara says, “When they could have turned their backs, the people from Mountain helped me in big ways. They didn’t need me to attend a service or donate money or even change much as proof. I asked for help, and I slowly recover as I am loved through this crazy journey by God and his people.”
Now, for the first time in over 4 years Sara is free of heroin and cocaine.
Her life and her baby’s life are a series of miracles. It’s an epiphany where God showed up and manifested himself.
Friends advised Sara to abort her baby. Odds said the baby would be affected by the drugs. The baby dodged foster care. When I look at Sara and her baby I see two epiphanies where God has manifested himself: Sara today holds a beautiful, whole, baby safely in her arms. And Sara is whole and beautiful as well, safe again in her Father’s arms.
The magi were pagans, engaged in activities the scriptures condemn. Astrologers who worshiped the wrong things.
But they went on a journey following the star. They were like Sara. Outsiders. The kind some people don’t have time for.
Also like Sara, a baby led to their salvation.
In both their cases – and in your case and mine – it begins with a willingness to go on a journey. To leave where you are in search of God’s new life.
The magi followed a star, trusting its light, and found themselves worshiping at the feet of Christ. Sara’s epiphany was pretty much the same. In the midst of her darkness she risked leaving a life she knew and ventured bravely forward toward the Lord and his healing light again.
As this new year begins, beyond all the banalities of resolutions and the hype of fresh goals (as important as they are – and I do think they are important) we would be wise men and women to realize it is time for us to go on a journey toward Christ.
Wherever you are, it’s time to leave familiar territory and go on a deliberate journey in search of deeper connection with Christ. This year, leave where you are. Go someplace new. Toward God.
It was scary for Sara, and the magi only had a star to show the way. You will be scared, too.
The amazing aha experience awaiting us is that by God’s grace, we will find him. He welcomes us. We are all like those pagan astrologers, we are all like Sara – outsiders, lost, prone to run from God. But like the magi and Sara we also can find our way to a new place of connection with Christ.
I should mention that on Christmas Eve at Mountain, I held Sara’s baby in my arms as part of our candle lighting service. People looked at a baby and saw a reminder of God’s gift of grace to us – how he came among us as a child. They didn’t really know the full story. That’s what epiphany is all about.
What journey will you go on this year, so you will have a story to tell? What will it take for you to fall at the feet of Christ to worship with a powerful new sense of discovery?