Saturday, January 4, 2014

Epiphany: The Gifts of the Magi

What would it have taken the Magi to make their trip to Jerusalem?  Think about it.  Say you lived in ancient Iran and were a member of a tribe of Zoroastrian priests deeply-centered in your own faith, a faith that believed in one God and waited for a virgin-born savior, which is what Zoroastrians believed. What would it have taken you to make the trip from Tehran to Jerusalem on camels?  It was a trip that would have taken months.  It would have been filled with hardship.  You carry with you gifts for a king, gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts of diplomacy.  Because you have studied the stars as part of your priestly training, you are following a configuration of the stars or a comet but you are also seeking a phenomenon of faith.  You have hoped to find the one who will lead the world to peace.  

The story of the Magi is an important one.  It speaks of spiritual seeking—of the
journey of the soul to come to a place of contentment, faith and peace.  And it is an important part of our Christian life.  Most of us have been “taught” our religion.  We were taken to church at an early age and we were taught what faith meant by Sunday-school teacher and parents.  But at some point we made faith our own whether it was at Confirmation or even First Communion, or some other point in life.  Others of us came to faith at a different time in our lives.  But at some point we all have to ask ourselves “what do I believe and how am I going to live according to that belief.”  That is the process of seeking. 

I love the Christmas season.  Not just because Christ comes, but often I get to meet the children of my friends, the ones who live away from home.  I sometimes get to visit with those who are seeking, trying out what it means to believe through their own lights.  Often it is the trip home that gets them thinking about what they really have faith in.  And I get to have some interesting discussions with those who are willing to challenge.  Some have already had an experience of God or some realm of the holy and they are trying to figure out how to claim that experience and place themselves in a place where they might be able to experience it again.   

Others are asking questions that bring their childhood faith into question.  This is not to say that their education in their childhood was not good, it is merely the fact that their ability to understand has grown and they are “putting away their childish things.” 
They have outgrown their childhood faith and must claim an adult faith.  Some are angry that what they learned in childhood doesn’t serve them as adults—but it is more of situation is that they haven’t tended their childhood faith so that it will grow with them.  Faith is not made out of Spandex—we must let the seams out ourselves so that it will fit an adult relationship with God. Faith is made to order-- each one developing our relationship with Christ.  We no longer have the faith of our parents, or Sunday school teacher or the pastor.  Our faith in God is uniquely our own but within some kind of tradition that is right for us.

Seeking is a gift, however.  God invites us to seekgraces us with curiosity.  We are drawn by the stars of our own needs and desires.  All of us are invited to seek even if our faith is secure.  We seek to know more of God.  The Magi sought to find the Prince of Peace—the virgin-born Savior of their own tradition and they found Jesus.  We often seek through reading Scripture or studying how the Church has believed over the generations.  It is of God’s nature to be found.  God does not avoid us as we seek.  If we go looking for God, we will find.  The door will be opened to us.

Some of us need to allow ourselves to be sought.  God seeks us just as surely as we seek God.  We need to allow ourselves to be quiet enough for God to speak to us, to allow ourselves to be encountered by the holy One.  But sometimes we have to let go of looking in what we have always thought were the right places.  The Magi thought they were supposed to go to Jerusalem to find the Christ Child—their directions were not as fine tuned as they thought. Their GPS was nine miles off—their goal was in Bethlehem—down in Podunk Holler. 

The Magi had something else that the good nuns in my convent used to describe as the most important part of one’s faith: perseverance.  It isn’t a term that is used much anymore.  Everything in society these days needs to be mobile.  That stick-to-it-iveness
that the word perseverance implies is not as valued in the workday world but it is valued in matters of faith.  The Magi were unfailing in their seeking.  They did not let things like Herod deter them.  They kept on looking until they found the Messiah.  They persevered.  Seeking requires that kind of dogged, relentlessness.  It requires forging ahead even when doubts assail us, grief makes us despondent, or apathy or laziness would overcome us.  Perseverance equips us to meet the difficulties that seeking requires. 

One of the things that I see that is a barrier to God’s gift of seeking is an unwillingness to confront the issues of being faithful today.  Sometimes it comes from an attitude of
“I know all I need to know—my faith works for ME and I don’t have to learn anything more.”  That is like a forty-five year old trying to get by on an eight-grade spiritual education.  The seams are too tight. 

Another one is “I have “always believed…”.  Faith is not static.  Seeking God always expands our faith.  It forces us into thinking about how our faith must address the issues we must face life in a changing world. The other one is “I am afraid that the new teachings are taking me away from Jesus.” 

 There is nothing that can ever take us away from Jesus.  No education can take someone from Jesus Christ if it is truly education, and not indoctrination.  Sometimes it hard to tell the difference, but we must be willing to trust Christ enough to allow us to address the world’s issues in the light of our Christianity.  There are those whose religious affiliation is based more on indoctrination than faith.  But if one’s faith is
deeply rooted in that relationship between God and humanity through the Incarnation of God in Christ, nothing can shake it—no questions, no information, no way of teaching, no way of understanding Scripture, no fear, no indoctrination.  Because who we have sought has been God.  God will not allow our foot to be moved.  If we persevere in following where God leads us, we cannot fail in faith.  The only failure comes is when we give in to the fear.

 Seeking allows us to see the world in different eyes—God’s eyes.  Seeking allows us to see the parts of the world that are not our own and have compassion for people who are different from us.  It was the Magi’s compassion that led them not return to Herod
to tell where the Christ child was. 

Throughout this Epiphany season we will seek the Light of Christ in our readings.  The Light of Christ may be a star in the sky or the warmth of caring, or the delving into learning to know more of Christ.  It may be us bringing the darkness of our world into the Light so that we may find some way to conquer that darkness with the love of God.  

The gifts of the Magi may once have been gold, frankincense and myrrh.  But now they are Seeking, Perseverance and Openness.  The Magi gave us an image how to live in the world and not try to escape from it.

I invite you this season to find the places where God is calling you to seek Him.  It may be in the old—in the history of faith.  It may be in the future hope that God gives.  It may be in the here and now.  God may be calling you to bring the darkness of the world into the Light.  God may be calling you to explore issues that are difficult with the Light of who has come into the world.  But in all those places, God is with you, saving you, and opening your horizons to a greater faith.  AMEN

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