So once again I was given the privilege of giving some reflections this weekend for the Feast of the Epiphany. Readings are here.

Today we celebrate the epiphany, the “appearance” or the “showing forth” of God in Christ. Traditionally, “Twelfth Night” has always been a day for reversals, festivals in which a child was sat in the bishop’s chair, when servants were given the authority of their masters, when so-called “fools” were crowned kings for the day. I trust you will make no assumptions about the fact that I’m speaking right now.

But why do we have another feast of the incarnation right after, and part of, Christmas? Hasn’t Christ already appeared, to Mary and Joseph, to a motley crew of shepherds? God has become human in the baby Jesus, and we celebrated the incarnation on Christmas morning – what more do we need?

Our Gospel talks about the magi who come to worship the child, and there we get a clue about the showing forth of the light of Christ to all the world, Jews and Gentiles – this is what Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians. The “three wise men” – though if you listen closely, the text doesn’t say there are necessarily three of them, nor that they’re all men – represent those of us who come to the Word, searching from afar. But as important as that is, I think there’s something more going on here.

Historically, this wasn’t the only story Christians told about Epiphany; on the feast of the epiphanies they also told the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, which we celebrate tomorrow, and about the wedding at Cana where Jesus, at his mother’s prompting, performed his first miracle, a kind of miraculous beer run. The voice from heaven, “this is my son, listen to him,” was the showing forth of Christ’s special role as God’s servant; the miracle of Cana showed forth the beginnings of the reign of God in which all would share around a table with bread and wine in abundance.

But even though we celebrate Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season, these stories are all about beginnings, these stories all foreshadow, in big bright lights, HERE’S WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT. And what’s going to happen next, through Jesus’ life and ministry, is a life that culminates in the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. The epiphanies at Bethlehem, at the Jordan, at Cana, are all the starting points on the path that leads to Jerusalem – that is the place from which the light of God will truly shine forth, that is the place to which the nations of the world shall come in homage, that is the place which “in those days will be established as the highest mountain,” where Jesus will be “raised up.” That is the place where the story that begins with a baby in Bethlehem will end with a crucified criminal, a scared group of women and men, and a show-stopping ending when the glory of God is irrevocably shown forth.

As conditioned as we are to see the adoration of the magi as a colorful detail, giving us the chance to throw a camel into the crèche, but this is not only a cute story. The fact that Herod slaughters all of the children in the region just after the magi leave alerts us that this is not necessarily bedtime reading. Instead, this is the beginning of a story that is both dangerous and joyful, cross and resurrection.

Our scriptures and our rituals today give us all the hints we need to notice this, if our eyes are open. At the end of liturgy this evening, the date of Easter will be announced – when we are shown who Christ is at Epiphany, we begin walking with him toward Jerusalem. In a few moments, our catechumens will be anointed again with the Oil of Catechumens – when we are shown who Christ is at Epiphany, we, and they, in a special way, begin walking with him toward Jerusalem, toward baptism. Our reading from Isaiah mentions the gifts of gold and frankincense, the gifts for a king, but Matthew adds myrrh, the oil used to embalm a corpse – when we are shown who Christ is at Epiphany, we begin walking with him toward Jerusalem.

So how do we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord? First, like the magi, the wise women and men throughout history, we need to keep our eyes open. We need to be ready to leave our homes and our comfort zones and follow the stars in our world: not TV stars with great skin and perfect hair, but the stars that look like crosses, the stars of children born in poverty, of goodness lying in a dirty room in a back alley. We need to stand along the River Jordan, watching for the forgotten ones to whom God announces “you are my daughter, you are my son.” We need to make all welcome at this table where the reign of God is celebrated and where Christ our light is present again in our midst.

And if we want to join the magi in paying homage, we begin to adore the Christ-child precisely as the one who will also be the suffering servant and the risen Lord. We begin to ask how we will walk with him towards Jerusalem, how we, right now, are on the lookout for the epiphanies of God’s light in the world. These epiphanies, like Christ’s, always demand a response; sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t; that is a fact of our lives, and why we come back and look for the same thing every week. But when we do see it, when we do respond, when we start off towards Jerusalem and take the cross as our star, then we continue growing into the mystery of God made human, of God-with-us, Emmanuel; we begin the celebration of a God who is revealed at a wedding party, at a table of bread and wine, that doesn’t end.

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