- The Rev. Arianne Rice
Feast of the Epiphany
When I was a little girl, I had a magic bottle. It was small, clear, plastic, with, of course, a pink top. When you held the bottle upright it was almost completely full of milk. (Or I’m sure a substance that looks like milk)
But when you turned it on its side and used it’s pretend purpose - feeding a baby doll - the milk would slowly disappear. As if the doll was actually drinking it. Turn it right side up again and the milk would magically fill that bottle and once again it would be full!
I was fascinated by this bottle. Much more so than I was about feeding the doll (I had younger sisters so I had enough work with them in real life) But I could sit and turn that bottle up and down and up and down – watching that milk disappear and appear then disappear again. How did it work? What wonderful quality did this bottle possess? Why couldn’t all drinking cups and cans be like this?
I dreamed of one day becoming an adult and discovering the secret so that I could replicate this with all my favorite beverages! Like the can of Sprite soda, my mother would give to me but say I had to share with my two sisters. Which I did not like at all. Just imagine if I had a can of Sprite that could magically refill itself when I was done sharing it - just like that bottle!
That little bottle sparked wonder in me. I don’t remember asking my parents how it worked. I remember believing that adulthood would simply hold the key. There were so many things - so many possibilities - that I was journeying towards as a child. And isn’t this true for all of us? Back then wonder is a kind of magic that points us towards possibilities and dreams. Not crystal clear answers and solutions.
Star of wonder. Star of night. Star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading - still proceeding - guide us to thy perfect light!
Surely, the magi knew a thing or two about wonder. People outside the bounds of any religious tradition or heritage that is connected with our own. And yet, they are so curious about the wonderful possibility their astrological reading of the stars unveils – that they trust they will find the way. They will find what they are seeking – even though they don’t entirely know what they will find.
Like Joseph who trusts God through a dream. And Mary through an angel. The magi allow for the possibilities of God that are bigger than they can fully comprehend.
The magi offer a model of walking by faith and not by sight – that could be really helpful to us right about now.
Wonder provokes a quality of curiosity. A curiosity that is comfortable being in liminal space, a transitional time between the known and the unknown. The time of journeying - so often in scripture marked by being in the wilderness. Either because you chose to be there - or God decided that was what you needed.
The magi are on a wilderness journey that took a lot longer than the 12 days of Christmas. It was more like 2-3 years. And I am sure they felt something you and I have felt before. You don’t know for certain what the outcome will be - yet, intuitively, you trust you are headed in the right direction.
That’s because wonder is infused with hope. Hopeful. Wonderful. To be full of wonder doesn’t prompt fear, it strengthens trust. Trust that whatever will be is for the good.
You see this is the complete opposite of Herod. He is the example of someone with no tolerance for uncertainty. No imagination when it comes to possibility. No hope in anything other than that he can definitely comprehend and control.
I can imagine showing Herod that magic bottle as a kid – and like a bully – he would smash it on the ground – and say, look, see! That’s how it works. It’s not magic. It’s nothing special.
Herod cannot tolerate uncertainty because he lacks humility. Any sense that there are workings of the world that go beyond his immediate needs, conveniences and power.
In childhood we might be more prone to wonder because it’s easier to accept we don’t know everything. We trust in all these adults around us, we think they have the keys to all understanding – all mysteries – all powerful. And then we become adults ourselves.
Wonder, like humility, becomes something we can choose to cultivate. The wonder of the magi leads to joy. And that joy leads to awe and adoration. The magi, these outsiders, finally come upon this homeless holy family with treasures that would certainly prompt some curiosity – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not bottles for a baby. But gifts that again point forward to the mystery of who this child will become.
Before the mystery of Christ the magi make offerings, their gifts, but really themselves, their presence to have traveled so far to simply pay homage. That is humility. That is the primary stance of prayer – the first, dare I say, most important attitude of prayer – adoration. It’s listed first in our catechism at the back of our prayer book. Adoration to come before God and lift up our heart and mind to simply enjoy God’s presence.
It’s the verse of that last hymn we just sang – what can I give him? Give Christ my heart.
So this morning, in an ongoing liminal time, the bleak midwinter, this journeying between known and unknown – may the magi inspire our own epiphanies. May we find the wonder of God in the world around us – in the people in our lives – in the possibilities God has put in our paths. May our wonder spark curiosity – a hope that trusts God’s goodness is leading us through our own uncertainty – we don’t know all there is to know – but God does.
May this hopeful trust deepen the humility of our hearts – so that in quiet joyful adoration – day by day – we can offer our hearts – back to God – just as this gift of our hearts was given to us.