January 6 marks the beginning of the season of Epiphany. For the church in the East it is Christmas. Actually, when you go to the Old City of Jerusalem you will certainly still see Christmas decorations up everywhere, especially in the Armenian quarter. Epiphany brings with it certain texts that we will hear in church on Sunday. There is the journey of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, his miracle of the wedding of Cana; there is the slaughter of the innocent children, and there is the closing Sunday of the transfiguration of our Lord.
Epiphany talks about the guiding star that leads three astrologers to the Christ child. The story of following the star is, of course, a story of great drama. When you think about it, we all could use a little guidance in our life, whether it’s a message from the angel Gabriel telling us we need to pay attention and God has great plans for us, or it’s a star in the sky that somehow will take us to a child that will give us peace and wonder and joy and purpose.
It’s no coincidence that the star is leading outsiders, those who are not of Israel, but from the East. It is an indication from the beginning that God’s table is open to all who wish to sit around it. It is traditionally the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. This inclusive note from the beginning is not a mistake; it is the universal invitation to all that they are welcome to the Christian faith.
Guidance is always an interesting concept. It doesn’t mean you have control over people or things or events. It simply means you have input. You have influence and you have an entree into someone’s life. With human freedom, advice is not always taken, guidance can often be rejected, and people choose their path, whether you like it or not. Raising children can give you that experience easily.
I am one who likes a lot of input and even guidance, especially when it comes to uncharted territory or areas where I lack experience. I have been very fortunate to observe and to heed the guidance of others. You can learn a lot.
There are countless stories of those who have not observed the warning signs, given credence to directions, or learnt from the experience of others. They follow their own star which has led them off a cliff.
I was reading a book review of a biography of Tennessee Williams, entitled “Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh”. Williams, as you know, is one of the great American playwrights, but he lived his life recklessly, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, toward the end of his life, when his work began to fail and his own mother advised him to find another occupation, he received an honorary degree from Harvard. “Spotting Mother Teresa at a reception beforehand, he shambled over to where she sat on a couch saying her rosary, knelt down and put his head in her lap. Clearly the good woman had no idea who this paunchy, disheveled person was, but she knew a soul in pain when she saw it, and patted his head as she gave him her blessing.”
Life’s stories don’t always have happy endings or a star leading you to a destination that will enrich you, encourage you, and save you. Sometimes it’s just a train wreck, even though you have been showered with fame, honorary degrees, and wealth. Perhaps it was a star that led Tennessee Williams to Mother Teresa late in the game. Perhaps it was a way of acknowledging that he was always looking down or in the mirror, but certainly not in the sky for a guiding star to lead him.
We have all lowered our vision, gotten lost, and perhaps needed the Hubble telescope to find that star that would bring us to the good news that is embodied in the babe of Bethlehem. May Epiphany give you such vision that you include all those on the periphery of your life as well as in the center with love and concern.