1/5/2014, A-Ha Moments in Time

Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians. 3:2-3, 5-6, Matthew 2:1-12

 

I will bet most of us still cherish our Epiphany Sunday images of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar riding atop their camels, following the star to the stable where the baby Jesus waits for them to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This is where the Christmas season crèche scene with its sheep and donkeys and shepherds becomes complete.  The Wisemen finally arrive! It’s a treasured story from childhood.  It has become part of our spiritual truth.

 

 It’s the words of Christmas carols and the artistic depictions that we have seen on Christmas cards that largely have created our impressions of this Gospel story.  We’ve taken this story to be historical truth.

 

However, there is now much scholarly evidence that the Gospel writers never intended their readers to take the nativity story literally.  When the Gospels were written toward the end of the first century, their writers had been reflecting for 50 years on the meaning of the life and death of this man called Jesus.  Whoever they were, these writers were trying to present to the Jews and Gentiles of that time, in language and symbolism they would understand, why they should take this life of Jesus seriously as a message from God about a new way to live in the world.  The writer of today’s Gospel reading was trying to put into words the experience of epiphany.

 

An epiphany is a sudden realization of something that was either not seen or not understood before. Epiphanies are what we might call A-HA moments in time.  We’ve all had such moments in our lives.  We may have been struggling with a certain intellectual question or relational issue when suddenly the light goes on and we get it! 

 The Church marks the 12th day of the Christmas season as Epiphany.   The scriptures for this day all speak of A-HA moments, of “We get it!” moments.  In each reading we heard this evening, something new is being recognized in the Jewish faith life.  A change is coming to the way things have been.  Those involved in these AHA moments may not fully understand what they have seen, or exactly what it will mean for the future.  But they do understand that that they are required to make a response to this moment in time.   Things will not be the same, and they too will have to change. 

The context of the Isaiah passage is that the Hebrew people had been recently released from Babylonian exile.  The Prophet exhorts them to rise up and shine in the light of their new identity as free people.  They are to see themselves in a new way, with new hope for a bright future in which many foreign nations will be drawn to the hope they offer as a people who honor God. It’s an A-HA moment!

 In the letter to the Ephesians, a moment of epiphany happens when Paul declares that the Spirit has now revealed what was not known to previous generations: that God’s saving love is meant for all people, not just the Hebrew nation. Adherence to Jewish law for righteousness will be replaced by the law of grace freely offered to all. It’s an A-HA moment!

 Finally, Matthew’s account of the Magi’s visit creates a story about a shining light that draws the Magi, representative of the Gentiles, to the universal love of God.  In Christ, the Magis recognize the One who was destined to challenge the worldly system of power and domination.  This child symbolically holds forth to all spiritual seekers the possibility of a world shaped by justice, mercy and humility.  It’s an A-HA moment for both Jews and Gentiles.

The Judeo- Christian scriptures offer us many stories about people who come to recognize God at work in new ways.  These are symbolic epiphany stories: A-HA moments that happen through every age of faith journeys. 

Story-tellers of truth may say,  “Now I don’t know whether it really happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.”  Universal truths that don’t depend on factuality are often conveyed in stories and symbols.  Universal truth is what we know deep down inside of ourselves. Our conscience refers to this inner truth to make decisions about living with integrity.    We might also call this truth the bedrock of FAITH.   Faith is confidence that the Divine holds us in the midst of mystery and gives us the courage to stay with the journey when doubts arise.

The star of light is an important symbol within the Christmas story.  In today’s story, Wisemen come from the East having seen this significant star rise.  They follow its westward track hoping to discover what it means. I can think of this as the story of my own faith journey.  I have long followed the light of Christ across the sky of my life’s journey.  I have pursued it even when it seemed dimmed by other bright lights in the sky, or obscured by clouds that made it seem to disappear for a while.  Always, the light of the Christ story has drawn me on towards the sunset horizon of my life.  Even though I am less and less sure of the factual truth of what lies beyond that horizon, the Light keeps drawing me.  Because of all the A-HA moments I’ve had in the past, I trust that at that sunset point, I will have yet one more Epiphany.  I will finally get it! 

In this 21st century, science, religion and the global interconnectedness of cultures are all inviting us to an experience of epiphany--- new ways of seeing God’s work in creation and humanity.  Change is coming to the way things have been.  As we experience A-HA moments we may not fully understand what they mean for the future.  But like our spiritual ancestors, we should recognize that we are required to make a response to this epiphany moment in time.   Things will not be the same, and we too will have to change. 

 We are being invited to engage with God as not simply out there beyond us but as right here with us in the midst of everything we experience and all the efforts we make to better this world.  A new understanding of God is being perceived, a new reality of faith is coming together out of symbolic pieces of the old combined with new evidence about our universe and our evolving place in it.

Perhaps as this new  year begins you could take some time to reflect on significant epiphany moments in your life.  Where have they led you?  Make a resolution to be open to such A-HA moments in the future. Anticipate the presence of God to be found in them. Living with the expectation of Epiphany is the way of spiritual wisdom that trusts the light to carry us beyond the Westward horizon.  Perhaps when we arrive there we will have that ultimate A-HA moment, when all will become clear and meaningful. 

By Sandi DeMaster