Seek and Ye Shall Find
“Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews?” Today we celebrate Epiphany, the arrival of the three Magi to worship the baby Jesus. This is the number one Christmas scene depicted by religious cards. Right from the start it is a story about seeking Jesus and finding Jesus. The Magi find Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. Later we learn King Herod misses finding Jesus as Mary and Joseph and Jesus escape to Egypt.
Astrologers from the east, most likely modern-day Iran, noticed the appearance of a new bright star in the sky. They believed that with each person’s birth, their star appeared in the sky. The brighter the star, the more important the person. So, when they see a new star brighter than all other stars, they assume a great king has been born. Now, they have followed that star, like an ancient GPS, to Jerusalem. They go straight to King Herod and ask, “Where is the King of the Jews?”
In an instant, Herod sees his life flash before his eyes. He knew the ancient prophecies that one day a Messiah, a great king, would come, but never did he expect it to be in his lifetime. He saw his crown being taken from him and someone he believed to be undeserving sitting on the throne. It was a powerful question: “Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?”
Herod calls together his advisors to give the Magi specific directions. They say that it has been foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Herod asks the wise men to let him know when they have found the baby so that he too might go and give him honour. In fact, Herod then orders the murder of all male children under the age of two. Herod was one of the most cunning and ruthless men that the world has known.
So, the wise men make it to Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Of course, you know what would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men? They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany: a realization, a revelation, a moment of insight, when what was previously muddy or confusing becomes crystal clear. We celebrate that the Magi seeking the Messiah found the baby Jesus.
We know something about seeking. For those of you who made New Year’s resolutions, you are seeking to be, in some way or another, better or to improve yourselves. For Christmas, someone gave me an Indigo Bookstore card. When I was in the store, I couldn’t help but notice that one of the largest sections in the store is the self-improvement section.
However, self-seeking, self-improvement is not what the Magi were after. They didn’t come with self-interest in mind. They just wanted to worship the new born king. If anyone in the story is out for selfish reasons, it is King Herod.
At Epiphany and the beginning of the new year, the Magi extend to us a different invitation. They call us to seek out epiphanies. To seek out Jesus the Christ. To seek out the places in our lives where Christ is revealed. In this way, we are seeking outside our selves. For the Magi, the seeking was to follow a star. What does our seeking look like? In reality what they were doing was paying attention to the ways in which God was at work in the world around them’ They saw a star, and then they responded to that sign. Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? Where is the Christ revealed?
I am sure that the big surprise to them was that they were led to a manger. We’re not quite sure whether the manger was a stable out back of an inn, or a cave in a hill at the back of Bethlehem or a basement in a home, but whatever it was, the place where the Christ child was to be found was very ordinary. I wonder if King Herod would have been expecting to find the Messiah in such a lowly estate?
Consider the cast of characters we have in the Christmas story. For Christmas, the children put on an excellent pageant which reminded us of the simplicity of the story. Who are the first two to know about the birth of the Messiah? Not King Herod, or Caesar, not someone in a high place. It is Mary, a pregnant teenager, and Elizabeth, her elderly cousin, who would have been written off by her community as past her prime.
The angels share their good news, not via social media or the newspapers, to a group of unplugged, unconnected migrant farming shepherds who roam from place to place without a roof over their heads. Jesus isn’t born in the centre of the action, in the capital, with its money, education and progress, but in the little backwoods town of Bethlehem. When Jerusalem finally hears news of Jesus’ birth, two years after the fact, it’s the foreigners with accents and strange clothes that clue them in. Jerusalem’s own academics and legal experts missed the birth, possibly because they weren’t paying attention to what God was up to.
There is also the possibility that we will miss seeing Christ, because we often expect to only have epiphanies here, in Sunday worship, so we don’t pay attention during the other hours of our week. Of course, Christ is revealed here through songs of praise, through the Word and the Table, and the sharing of peace. However, these practices, these things that we do here for an hour or so on Sunday morning, are meant to shape us so that we might see Christ revealed outside these walls. So that we might see the Messiah when we are going about the rest of our week: breaking bread at mealtimes, helping a neighbour, assisting a newcomer to our community, caring for an elderly person or a child, working with a co-worker. During the next week, be extra vigilant as you go about your routine. Where in your life, or in the lives of others, do you see Christ?
A minister once said that this, here, what we do on Sunday morning, is merely the dress rehearsal. It is a dress rehearsal for what happens out there – in real life. You can’t see the stars from in here and the magi didn’t meet Jesus in the temple, but in the house where he was staying.
At the beginning of the new year, we can attempt to do things better; declutter our houses, eat better and establish other healthy habits for 2018. But the story of Epiphany is an invitation from the Magi to seek something different, something besides self-improvement or goal achievement. It is an invitation to seek Christ, revealed in the most ordinary moments, with often forgotten people, in the most unexpected places. Epiphany. Like the Magi, will you find the Christ in the baby Jesus lying in the manger?