January 1, 2022 Essay: People, Look East! The Time Has Come!
Look East! Out of the dawn leaps the splendor of the Rising Son of a New Day! Mysterious men from the East, thought of as “Wise”, follow a star to worship a King. A camel caravan journeys from Sheba, bearing gold and frankincense. The star leads to Bethlehem and the birth of an infant, Jesus, the Christ, the One who makes our hearts throb and overflow. For, over us, shines the glory of the LORD!
“People, look East; the time has come…”
Epiphany! The word means “appearance” or “manifestation” in Greek, the language spoken for the first two centuries after the time of Jesus. Epiphanies are manifestations of God. They lure us into new ways of seeing God, encountering God, engaging God, celebrating God. The Magi followed the Star looking for a King. Apparently, they were familiar with the Jewish prophesies that had foretold an expected savior-King. “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage,” they questioned King Herod.
In the polytheistic world of that time, the Jewish faith was attractive and prestigious to some because of its monotheistic beliefs and its high moral code. Stars were teachers and the Wise men were learners and genuine searchers for truth. Until the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, the only ones who had seen the infant were likely Jews; his parents; possibly some family members or birth attendants; the shepherds; perhaps the innkeeper. This birth was a Hebrew happening. Yet when the Magi arrived, despite being outsiders, they were welcomed to honor the child. Something took place within this encounter with the child. Searching for a King, they had found a poor, homeless infant in a migrant family. And yet, the Magi had an “Ah-Ha!” moment of revelation! This child was THE ONE for whom they were searching. The ONE who saves. “He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.” (Ps. 72: 12-13)
For us as well, an honest search for truth requires letting go of entrenched expectations, habits, or opinions. Truth seekers must be willing to push back the horizon of their own vision in order to receive the revelation of God within the reality of human life. The purpose of the Incarnation itself is to communicate the deep and purposeful loving presence of God in created life. All of creation and all of life is a place where the human person can encounter, engage and celebrate God. However, this vision requires a willingness to move out of one’s comfort zone and search for the ‘more’ that God wants to reveal. It asks one to accept that God respects all people’s search for God; whatever star initiates that journey. Sometimes one follows a star into one’s own echo chamber, confirming personal prejudices, or entertaining idle and useless curiosities. The Magi themselves did not know what they were looking for and foolishly consulted the one person, Herod, who jealously sought to co-opt their honest search for truth. Of course, he knew only the rumors of the birth of a potential rival which he may have received as superstitious since he relied on the wise astrologers to report back their findings. So too with us. We, honest searchers, also seek God in foolish places. And like the Magi God often reveals the Divine Presence in unlikely persons, places, and events.
Our deep desire, our yearning for God is our ‘star’ found within, rather than without. God is endlessly inventive giving us manifestations, revelations that grasp us in ways we eventually recognize. Like the Magi, we are challenged to accept the gift of the truth of the unexpected, of differences, of the necessity to let go of preconceptions, of being fully present to reality. Life with its joys, sorrows, and struggles is the place of our Epiphanies. The uniqueness and particularity of every element of creation, every moment of our history, particularly human persons, are epiphany events, graces, and gifts for celebration and blessing.
“People, look East; the time has come…”
– Sr. Kathryn King, FSP