by the Rev. Lynn Naeckel
Imagine this: three men
traveling hard through treacherous lands, freezing in the mountain
passes, broiling in the desert, traveling sometimes by day and
sometimes by night, stopping only to sleep and rest the camels,
eating jerky and dried fruit along the way, so as to lose no time.
These scholars from the east
had seen a new star and divined its meaning. But how could they
be sure? What if the star disappeared as quickly as it had arisen?
What if they were too late? What if they were wrong?
They no longer told their story
to fellow travelers met at an oasis or some resting place along
the caravan route. They did not enjoy being laughed at, especially
when they harbored their own doubts. Finally they rode in silence,
too worn and tired for any conversation.
How must it have felt to
cross the Jordan, so close to their destination, and lift up their
eyes to the jagged hills rising before them? That last climb,
winding up and up and up to Jerusalem, past groups of Bedouin
camped in the tiny valleys, must have seemed endless.
At least the ride to Bethlehem
after their meeting with Herod seemed no more than a moment,
because the end of their journey was in sight and now they would
They found their epiphany in
a humble stable in Bethlehem and they gave the baby gifts in
joy and thanksgiving.
Epiphany, as you know, means
a showing forth, a manifestation, especially a spiritual truth
or reality making itself felt or visible in the real world.
It is a beam of light in the darkness, like the star the wise
men saw. It's the experience we have that makes something clear,
like the cartoon character with the lightbulb over his head.
It's that click we hear in our heads when we suddenly see the
whole picture - when we finally "get it."
On this day, when we celebrate
Epiphany, we acknowledge that the journey of the wise men to
find the Christ child is also the journey of every child of
God. Their journey is also our journey. We too seek to find
the Holy, to validate our relationship to God, and to offer
gifts of thanksgiving.
We, too, travel through treacherous
lands. Our way sometimes leads through dry country, where hope
drains away like rainfall in the desert, where we barely remember
who we are or where we're going or why. Sometimes we travel
in high places where we can see the world laid out before us
and doubts flee. We feel certain of our purpose and our destination.
In the dark of night we know
cold and fear, yet we keep on, encouraged by the star we see
when the night is clear. We make wrong turns and have to backtrack
to try again. We travel miles only to find ourselves in blind
canyons. We have to forge roaring mountain streams, despite
our terror of being swept away, because there is no other choice.
Like the wise men, we seldom
speak to other travelers about our purpose. We don't tell, when
we see or hear from loved ones after they die. We make no attempt
to describe or explain our own small epiphanies: how a beam
of sunlight once transformed me; how eating a peanut butter
and jelly sandwich while sitting on a rock 3 billion years old
gave me a glimpse of my connection to the entire universe; how
the sight of a deer emerging from the woods, or the bump of
a walleye against my lure, tells me all is right with the world;
how the lap of waves against the hull of a sailboat as I fly
in silence across the lake assures me that God is alive and
well. We so fear the laughter of others that we seldom share
our deepest experiences of joy.
But, ah-h-h, when we travel
in the green valleys, where the water runs clear in the streams,
the sun is warm and the breeze is cool, where the way is easy
and the fruit falls from the trees, we feel certain that this
is the life we are meant to live.
But in the end, we too must
make the long trek up into that last range of mountains, one
step after another, uncertain about what we will find, no longer
even thinking, but only trying to find the stamina to keep on
climbing - hoping, and not hoping that this is the last steep
Only at journey's end will we
find our true home - and the gift we give will be ourselves,
laid at the manger each Christmas, offered at the altar every
Sunday, and returned to the Spirit at the moment we die.
As T.S. Eliot says, near the
end of The Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
In our society we say to people,
"Have a nice day." The Chinese used to say, "May
you live in interesting times."
What I wish for us is this:
a fascinating journey with one or two boon companions, full
of peaceful and happy interludes, but with enough trouble and
struggle to teach us what we must learn, and to give us zest
and faith, enough zest to enjoy the good times and enough faith
to face the hardships to come.
So I say: May we find the God
we seek, and may we too arrive where we began and know the place
for the first time.