Now that we have GPS systems we can be fairly assured that we can get anywhere, anytime all by keying in a few letters and numbers. It’s as simple as one-two-three, more or less. Unless you are a first time user and you are driving the windy streets of Greenwich and it’s a crisp winter’s night. Unless your GPS is not programmed to ‘say’ the name of the streets in advance and you are not familiar with the streets then, it is not as simple as one-two-three.
I had programmed my new GPS to get from the Wilton parsonage down to the Greenwich Reform Synagogue to hear a renowned scholar on the New Testament. I got down there with no problem being able to negotiate the twists and turns that my little Saturn encountered at that time. The stars and the satellites were in alignment and it worked like a charm. Getting there.
But all good things come to and end and it was time to come home. It was a midweek program and I had worked a long day, so just going out on a winter’s evening seemed from the start an exhausting adventure. I was really tired and it was about 9:45 pm. I thought I could remember the way, my internal GPS is usually pretty attuned. But I turned on the GPS anyway just in case and because I could, remember it was new. It was darker yet into the night and the moon which usually can cast some sort of light was waning its way into a new moon.
All I wanted was to be home. But that was not to be the case at that moment. I got horribly lost. The GPS took me round and around and after 15 minutes I wound up back at the Synagogue. I was exasperated, frustrated, angry, fresh out of humor, tired, and disoriented. I called upon God, several times in fact. ‘Try again’ was my answer. So I looked down at my nemesis the GPS, pressed start again and trusted in God that the GPS would eventually get me home. It did, but curiously it was not the way that it got me there! It took me another route, a much shorter route with many less turns. Who knew that I was so close to the Merritt Parkway?
We’ve all just wanted to be home at times. Home is warm and comfortable, nurturing and loving most of the time. It’s where we learned to ride our bikes and then expanded our knowledge of the world from the footprint of our house to the jungles of the neighborhood. Yet we knew we could go back home again, and while it may not have been perfect, there was unconditional love waiting to greet us at the door. It’s a base where we know who we are, where we can be ourselves, let our hair down, scratch where it itches.
We’ve all experienced that need to be back in our familiar environs. But, for some reason, we cannot get there the way we used to be able to get there. Some people even have dreams where they just cannot seem to get home no matter how hard they try. A road closure, a detour, a GPS-handler malfunction, or maybe even a menacing King Herod prevents us from getting there by the route we came.
That was the case for the Magi when they tried, after seeing the newborn King, Jesus. They tried to get back to their homes in the exotic east, Mesopotamia, the land of rich spices. But the route they took to get to Bethlehem was not to be the same route that they would have to take to get home because the first one was filled with ‘lions and tigers and bears’![i]
Let’s go back to Matthew’s account. The Magi saw a star rising just over the horizon. And as it rose it got more luminous until it became a magnificent star, a star that outshone all the rest. It was a star that heralded something different, it made them wonder, it made them travel a great distance, it was an epiphany of God to those three gentiles who would risk a long trip with expensive gifts in hand. The presence of God was manifest in the star letting the wise men know of Jesus’ arrival.
They arrived in Bethlehem after the star ended its journey. Word got out of those elaborate strangers in town; people had many questions. Herod and all of Jerusalem, which is just a stone’s throw from Bethlehem, were afraid. And who wouldn’t be? Dignitaries from another country inquiring about a NEW king in town? Herod was king of the people as appointed by the Roman Imperial Empire and no one was going to dethrone him. You see the political struggle that we find so palpable later in the Gospel is already present. So a threatened King Herod calls for his scribes, his inside people, and asks about this so-called king and where all this might be happening.
Then, secretly, he calls for the wise men, those new people in town, and tells them to go to Bethlehem because that’s where they would find this baby king. Then after they pay Jesus homage, they are to let Herod know so he too could do the same. You and I both know that secrets never work. Herod’s intentions were not pure. He was not a man of integrity or trust. In fact, already then, he wanted Jesus dead.
Well the magi, being wise men and all, find Jesus and worship him. He is the epiphany of God in the presence of a baby. They present their expensive gifts and when it was time to return to the East they were warned through a dream, not to take the same route. Heeding the dream, they returned home by taking an entirely different road. How frustrating it must have been for them. Thankfully, there is more than one way home.
Herod’s still exist. There are Herod’s who prevent us from reaching our destination, Herod’s who throw a monkey wrench into our plans. Herod’s of disease, of broken relationships, of financial shortfalls, of shattered dreams, Herod’s of institutionalized prejudice and injustice, you name it we have all stood face to face with Herod.
These are the disappointments in life that may not be of our own liking or design, yet after our initial anger and shock we are forced to reorient ourselves. When these Herod’s block our path, we are forced to seek a different way, plain and simple. Our faith is called upon to go into overdrive, to search for a new path, to seek a way home to the familiar.
In this space is where an Epiphany will happen. Trust me. You will be able to see, to envision, to make a plan, it’s just that this epiphany might manifest itself in a much different manner that you thought. You will see that there are other roads that will take you where you need to be. It just won’t be the road you were on. God says through the prophet Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
There are infinite, creative possibilities along this unknown route. There are epiphanies for our taking where Christ’s light will shine FOR us and God’s urging will be upon us. You will feel God’s presence moving you from one point to another. But it takes time, imaginative thinking, faith in the unknown and strength for the journey ahead.
Epiphanies are everywhere in this story of the three wise men. And God’s grace is revealed all along the way. God is revealed in the star which lead the Magi to Jesus because Christ is the light of the world. God is revealed in the infant Jesus so lovingly wrapped in cloth and nestled at Mary’s bosom for in this Epiphany our Redeemer has come. God reveals in the dream God’s protective nature and God is around them, above them, below them, and with them; leading them another way home. God is with you too, always, even when Herod stands in your way, or you can’t quite understand the GPS. You will get home, and life will begin anew.