From The Reverend
Barbara A. T. Wilson
Epiphany, 1/5/2020|St. Paul’s, DeKalb
I wonder what they saw in the sky that first night? What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knows where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?
We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. The writer of Matthew’s gospel says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from ancient Persia, where Iran is now. We like to think that there were three of them but Matthew doesn’t say that and the number has varied throughout the church’s history; 2, 3, 4, 8, even 12. Maybe because three gifts are mentioned—gold, for royalty; frankincense for high priesthood; and myrrh, for anointing the human body for burial. By tradition, we call the wisemen Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar but those names didn’t come about until the seventh century.
And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets. The important thing is that the wisemen were gentiles---this Jewish infant is revealed to be ruler over Gentiles, so this epiphany gift is for all of us—Gentile and Jew.
The anonymity and vague historical information serves as a reminder that this story, this Epiphany journey, is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey. The truth of sacred scripture is never limited to or contained only in the past.
I don’t know what was in the sky, what they saw, that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds; what they thought, asked, or talked about. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for.
But I am pretty sure that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when the darkness of our night sky has been lit brightly; times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way---so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.
That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something stirred within them and they began to wonder, to imagine, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them?
Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?
To seriously consider these questions is to begin the journey. That journey took the wise men to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the arms of his mother, Mary. We may travel a different route than the wise men did but the answer is the same.
I’ve shared this with a few of you before, but I have an Epiphany story that involves all of you, which I’d like to share. First a little background. It’s 2018, and I have, in my own mind—officially retired. Tired of healthcare for profit and hospital politics after 18 years, I’d quit my job as director of a large department of professional chaplains and volunteers. Lynne had a good position as a hospice chaplain in a well-respected nonprofit organization and was soon to be promoted to a fulltime position.
At the same time, I was enjoying my third year in a half-time position as Interim Rector at St. Augustine’s, Benton Harbor.
Together, we’d enjoyed success with a capital campaign and the installation of a very nice elevator and a much-needed new conference room on the lower level. The membership was growing, not fast, but steadily. It is one of the few racially integrated parishes in the Diocese of Western MI, and has lots of kids. I intended to stay there as long they wanted me to.
All in all, things were better than okay. I’d given up on interviewing for fulltime parish positions after being interviewed for three days in a lovely resort town in northern MI---and told finally, as someone in a same-sex marriage, that I was never considered to be a serious candidate, thanks anyway. That Search Committee was doing what the Bishop’s Office asked them to do by interviewing me. Disappointed and feeling used and angry, I quit looking.
Still, every so often—because we have family here—I’d check the list of open positions in the Diocese of Chicago. Our home in Michigan was only 3.5 hours away from the grandkids, and we liked our house and setting very much. Still, we thought, it didn’t hurt to look and daydream about possibilities. Sometime that summer, we saw this position for a fulltime rector posted. I confess that I was surprised and distressed in about equal measure to be invited to come to DeKalb.
Remembering the fiasco that was the last time I interviewed, I was reluctant risk making myself and my family vulnerable to another inquiring Search Committee.
I decided to call Mr. Dowen, the committee chair, apologize and withdraw my application. It was a good decision, and I was relieved to be able to put the idea behind me for about 24 hours.
Then, in prayer, something unexpected and unusual was revealed to me. The prayer-dream or vision---was as if a star—like the one the wise men followed---snagged my attention, moving away until it hovered over what felt like St. Paul’s---not an image of the church building or anything like that—just a powerfully felt sense of you all, even before I met you. The star rested here. I questioned it---who knew if this was in the sky or in my mind or in my heart? It was inviting us to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? God has not often been so direct in my life—but clearly said, this is your destination if you are open to it. Doubtful, we went ahead with the interview, willing to withdraw, ready to call it off at any time we felt challenged because of our relationship.
All the way along the way, this was proven to be the right move, the destination God hoped for us here and I believe God has seen us through in spite of many obstacles and painful misunderstandings through our first year together. Who knows what’s next? Where will God lead us—now? Just because God leads you someplace doesn’t mean everything is going to be easy or “just right.” Remember, the wise men had that run in with Herod, and decided not to do as Herod said, so they went home by another way. It seems where God is moving, there is always some kind of trouble, some “Herod” ready to try to stop things. It is a new year, full of new possibilities and promise, and sure—more hard work to come. But I believe we—together--are on a path shown us by God.
Yes. God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing Godself in and through humanity, in these very lives, in the flesh.
Maybe it was the day you bathed your first grandchild and saw the beauty of creation and the love of the Creator.
Or that day you said, “I love you” and knew that it was about more than just romance or physical attraction. Perhaps it was the moment you really believed your life was sacred, holy, and acceptable to God.
Maybe it was the time you kept vigil at the beside of one who was dying and seemingly from out of nowhere, you experienced joy in the certainty that death is not the end.
These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the roads we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.
Yours in Christ,