Tomorrow is Epiphany. The AHA! day for the magi. The three wise men, or kings have become iconic figures in Christianity. Never mind that we don’t really know that they were men, or that there were three of them, or that they were riding camels. And “magi” does not automatically equal “king”, it is much closer to astrologer.
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Still, limiting this story to a literal interpretation does us a huge disservice. Metaphorically, the story of the magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus holds a multitude of much richer and more meaningful lessons, if only we’d take the time to look. Allow me to focus on one as we enter the New Year, it is that wonderful, clichéd phrase: “taking the road less traveled.”
If we put ourselves in line with those humble visitors to the stable to see the newborn babe, that puts us in the company of shepherds and magi. The shepherds had an amazing supernatural encounter with very talkative angels who announced the glorious birth of the child Jesus and told them to hightail it over to Bethlehem where they’d find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The magi, however, had nothing more than an un-talkative star, guiding them through the darkness of unfamiliar lands, to an uncertain outcome. Yet they were compelled to go, to risk, to seek. Because they persevered, they were finally able to witness to the in-breaking of the Divine into this world.
We may long to be like the simple shepherds, charged with a clear, simple task: find the revelation of God, honor it, share it, and cherish it. But waiting for a heavenly gaggle of angels to appear seems a long shot. The reality is that we are more often like the magi… having to risk walking (or perhaps stumbling) in the darkness, seeking, hopeful, watching for signs and taking calculations on the correct route. Getting turned around when we lose sight of the light, and then trying again.
The problem is that we don’t like to risk. We don’t like uncertain outcomes. And we definitely don’t like to be uncomfortable. We prefer our easy chair, our routine, our no-surprises life. We get caught up in the little, slippery voice of fear that doesn’t want to be uncomfortable, or unsure, or in a new situation. We tell ourselves we’re just homebodies so that we don’t have to risk, meet new people, try new things. I’m sorry, but that limits the options for God breaking into our lives.
On the other hand, the Divine voice says, do not be afraid to be alive. Do not be afraid to venture forth to places unknown and things untried. Let go of the need for fixed answers, for known outcomes. The Divine Voice says go forth and live… love… be free. Do not let others’ expectations or ideas of who you should be keep you from living. Do not let your own fears keep you from living.
The New Year many choices, many different directions, many unexplored paths. How will we choose? What voice guides us?
New opportunities may take us down paths that are fun and adventurous. It could be a new restaurant, trip to somewhere you’ve never been, a party where you won’t know anyone, parachuting, art class, dancing lessons… they change us, they open us to the larger world, they give us more places to see the Divine.
Sometimes the voice of the divine invites us down even less traveled and perhaps more treacherous roads. These paths lead us to do things like seek forgiveness,reach out for help, help another, give forgiveness, and let go. No one can know where these will lead or what the outcome, but we can trust that God is with us in the darkness seeking to create something beautiful.
And then there are those times when we must risk the scariest paths, those that will change our lives forever. Yes, these roads are scary. Yes, they always take us into the darkness for a time. And, yes, we long to run whimpering back to our easy chair. But, if we trust our Source, and listen to the Divine voice of aliveness, instead of the voice of fear, we will be led to an amazing in-breaking of God in our lives in ways that we can’t even begin to guess.
This year, let’s not follow the voices of fear, but the voices that lead us to aliveness and a deeper knowing of the Divine.