In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the culmination of Christmastide is celebrated at last during the arrival of the Magi. Gifts aren’t exchanged among families until the Christ-Child would have received gifts Himself—by uninvited and savvy star-gazers anxious to arrive where the newborn King could be found.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way. // Matthew 2: 10-12
The Recurrence + Importance of Uninvited Guests
Scripture abounds with stories of uninvited guests who seemingly pop up out of nowhere!
- The wedding feast where people are invited from the highway and hedgerows. // Luke 14:23
- The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil at table. // John 12:3
- Dinner at Matthew, the tax collector's house. // Matthew 9:10
- Abram and Sarai’s/Elizabeth and Zechariah’s reception of their long-awaited sons—guests that arrived in unexpected circumstances. // Genesis 18:1-15, -Luke 1:5-25
- Jesus Himself arrived in the least likely way and surprised,Mary, Joseph, and the whole weary world along with them! // Luke 1: 26-38
It is noteworthy that those who do not fall within the parameters of those on the "guest list" so frequently have something to teach us about ourselves and about the nature of Who God is. So often they are met with similar responses by other guests. Namely, that the God of the universe is not nearly as limited as we might allow ourselves to believe... and that perhaps we are.
Examining Our Guest Lists
I wonder if Epiphany isn’t an opportunity to evaluate our guest lists a bit. Do we include room to be surprised by others? By God? Do our encounters with others spark "a-ha moments" that invite us to love and serve God better, or do they serve to keep us comfortable in our echo chambers?
I know which camp I am likely to fall into most days. Good thing Advent ushered in the Church’s New Year, and there is still plenty of time to add to our resolutions. Epiphany to the rescue!
Our Own Epiphany
One of my favorite details about the feast of Epiphany is that it is a word that has been adopted into mainstream vernacular. It isn’t out of the question that we might hear about an "epiphany" in a class discussion, a business strategy meeting, or a spiritual direction session. All of them imply having made a discovery of significant importance, all stemming from this same root experience of the Magi themselves coming upon the Child Jesus.
Each time I hear this word, I am jolted back to this awareness that God continues to be at work, weaving together the seemingly discombobulated aspects of daily life.
Not only does Epiphany extend our Christmas-ing another week beyond the 25th, but I would suggest that it does more than that: it invites us to a vibrant and growing life of faith that allows us to be surprised by the substantial things that God reveals to us in unlikely places. Mangers, dinner tables, Sacraments, timelines, lavish hospitality, deep devotion, family life, business deals, charity work, and repentant hearts.
By Another Way
The feast of Christmas continues on this Three Kings Day and it is intended to give us room to arrive where we might not have expected to end up, to celebrate, and to be on our merry way, encouraged and inspired by the Good News of Emmanuel, God-with-us. Some would say this is where the "work of Christmas" takes hold.
In some ways, the 12-day Christmas celebration is not one to lallygag and sit around waxing nostalgic, but a springboard into action: to follow the lead of the Magi who had been affirmed in their faithfulness, and returned to their home in a very different way.
Would that we all re-enter Ordinary Time "by another way."
In what way(s) do you hope to adopt the spirit of Epiphany at the close of the Christmas season?