Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 11, 2016

Signposts To God: An Epiphany Reflection

(The following is the manuscript from a reflection I gave at our annual Epiphany luncheon.)

James has a toy nativity set that we put up every Christmas. It’s not a delicate decoration but a durable toy – a “Play School Little People’s Nativity,” to be precise.

It is the kind of toy that can withstand the full contact play of a three-year old boy. Yes, I have discovered that it is age three when testosterone kicks in to high gear for boys. As such, James’ toys have a tendency to fly across the room and get mixed up with other sets of toys.  So it was not uncommon to find odd guests showing up at the nativity scene this Christmas . Sometimes Thomas The Train paid a visit to the manger. At other times the wind up dinosaur from Toy Story intermingled with Mary and Joseph. Toys that didn’t seem to fit in the nativity scene were there anyway.

wpid-1115_Orthodox_Nativity_Adoration_of_the_Magi_icon_CappadociaI think the story of the wise men in Matthew 2 would have created a similar image for the first readers of Matthew’s gospel.  These wise men are unlikely guests at the manger.  They were astrologers from the far east. To the Jewish people they were outsiders. Many looked down upon this class of people, considering them to be idolaters and pagans.

Matthew is making an important point by highlighting their presence. Right from the outset of the gospel we discover that Jesus has come with good news for all people. His kingdom is going to have room for those who were considered inferior, sinful, foreign, or pagan.

There is an important message here, I think, for those of us who are religious insiders. The story of the wise men invites us to be hospitable people – a people that make room for those who are considered “other,” or “inferior.”  This story has implications for mission and ministry.

Yet, I think it also speaks to our own journey of faith as Christians. The more time I spent with this story, the more I realized how much we have in common with these visitors. They not only represent those outside the religious establishment, they also represent us. The three wise men represent all of us who are searching for something deeper.

By worldly standards these wise men actually had a lot going for them. They had wealth and financial stability. In their own culture they were esteemed and considered wise.  Yet, despite all of these things they had going for them, they were still searching for something more.

I wonder if this might be true of us as well.   Despite being well off by worldly standards, I suspect that some of us feel a sense of emptiness.  Our culture has defined happiness in terms of materialism, but many of us are discovering that that this does not answer the deeper longings of the human heart.

And despite being religious and attending church, perhaps some of us feel spiritually depleted. Maybe it has been a while since you have had an epiphany – a recognition of God’s significance in your life. Perhaps God seems distant.

Where do we look when we are searching for more? How does epiphany happen?

For the wise men, the journey to Jesus is aided by a number of things. First they notice a star. There is a signpost to God right in the natural order of things. You could call this “natural revelation.”

Perhaps this is one ways that God breaks through to us as well.  Maybe this story is inviting us to notice again the miracle we are living in. When I was up at Julie’s grandparents cabin this summer I unplugged for the week. There was no phone or internet. And as I spent hours of the day out in nature I was reminded again of the tenderness and beauty of the world. There are signposts to God all around us.

But there is more.   Natural revelation only gets the wise men so far. They end up lost in Jerusalem. In a meeting with Herod, scribes and teachers are invited to give some guidance to unresolved questions.  These scribes turn to the scriptures to point the way to Bethlehem.  The next element of epiphany, then, is “biblical revelation.” It is through the ancient scriptures that they discover a path to Christ.

Perhaps this will aid our journey to God as well.  This story invites us to immerse ourselves again in the living word of scripture.

But the real epiphany, the life changing epiphany takes place when they are in the actual presence of Christ.   They follow the signposts of nature and scripture to the manger where they have a first hand encounter with Jesus. It is in this moment that the text says that they fall down on their face to worship him. This could be called “experiential revelation.” They discovered Christ on an experiential level. They no longer had just heard about him, or read about him, they encountered him for themselves.

Karl Rahner writes, “knowing God is more important than knowing about God.” The scriptures remind us that Christ is not simply an idea to figure out but a being to interact with.   A true epiphany, a true revelation of God is more than just an intellectual journey – it is a relational and experiential journey.

When I was in college I had things backwards. I was full of questions and doubts about God so I tried to figure things out by reading a lot of books. I was on an intellectual quest to get all my questions answered.  I was trying to be a “wise man.”  But the turning point, the epiphany moment  that helped me reconnect with God did not happen solely through an intellectual process. It happened when I decided to step out in faith and begin attending church again even though I didn’t have it all figured out. It was during worship at a local church that I discovered God on a personal and experiential level.   Sure, there was still a place to love God with my mind, and wrestle through questions at an intellectual level; however, I realized that many of the answers come as we begin relating to God personally through the practices of prayer and worship.

Friends, the story of Epiphany reminds us that Christ desires to reveal himself to the world. So look for the signposts that are around us.  Look for God in nature, look for God in scripture, and look for God to show up personally as you worship him.

Then we can start to talk about mission and ministry.  Epiphany precedes mission.  As God reveals himself to us and captures our heart, perhaps we will then become part of the way he reveals himself to others. Perhaps we will, as Paul says in Philippians, “shine like stars in the sky.”

As Christ reveals himself to us may we then reveal his love to all of those who have been told that they do not belong at the manger.  May we, in effect, become the star that leads others to Bethlehem.

 

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Responses

  1. Love the “picture” of James and the Nativity Scene. Thanks for the way you weave things together. Victoria

    From: Intersect To: soaringblocks@yahoo.com Sent: Monday, January 11, 2016 10:50 AM Subject: [New post] Sign-posts To God: An Epiphany Reflection #yiv5250225198 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5250225198 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5250225198 a.yiv5250225198primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5250225198 a.yiv5250225198primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5250225198 a.yiv5250225198primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5250225198 a.yiv5250225198primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5250225198 WordPress.com | Philip Rushton posted: “James has a toy nativity set that we put up every Christmas. It’s not a delicate decoration but a durable toy – a “Play School Little People’s Nativity,” to be precise.It is the kind of toy that can withstand the full contact play of a three-year old bo” | |


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