Matthew 2:1-12 – In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd* my people Israel.” ’
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men* and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,* until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped,* they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Escape to Egypt
13 Sometime not too long ago I was driving along on my way from here to there, I happened to be tuned in to CBC radio for the benefit of a little distraction as the miles crept slowly past. On that particular day they were running repeat broadcasts of previously aired shows, and the one I happened to catch, and which held my attention for a good while, was a show completely focused on the concept of humility…. an admittedly strange topic for in-depth reporting, but CBC does occasionally stretch those limits. Of course, in the few minutes that I have here, I won’t do it justice at all and I’m not really going to try ….but a couple of points from that interview stuck with me and cause me to ruminate still.
When we hear the word humility, the journalist said, we tend to think it equates to being passive, or meek, or self-effacing, perhaps tending to underplay or understate our gifts and abilities…. and said further that humility is one of those qualities that we hold up as an ideal human trait, but perhaps don’t really understand in all its richness and depth. And then the show went on to examine the quality of humility as seen through the eyes of various traditions and cultures down through the ages.
As a person who talks about humility but had never really thought too deeply about it, the conversation, which then turned to our own cultural reality, was a real eye-opener. What the journalist went on to address is the individualism and ego-centrism of our own culture: that is, the reality that now as perhaps at no other time in recent history, people (especially North Americans) tend to believe that the world revolves around ourselves individually, and communally. Another way to say this is that we have a skewed sense of our own self-importance; that is, we believe that our needs and wants are paramount and everyone else’s are secondary; and how humility, by contrast, is the deep understanding that there is an inter-connectedness and interdependence within all life, in which we are an admittedly small but nonetheless important part. Humility, then, is the recognition that life is bigger than we are, that the gift of life presupposes mutual responsibility and accountability; that we all have a part to play; and further, that rather than denying or containing our God-given skills and perspectives and talents, we have the obligation to share and use them, and use them well. This means that the person with a deep sense of humility approaches life with thankfulness, with a willingness to participate, to go where the Spirit leads, and to live in a kind of holy wonder and anticipation and trust at what the next bend in the road will reveal…and not only that, but also to have the flexibility to ‘go home by another way’ when the situation demands it.
Well, perhaps you’re beginning to make the connection with the story of the Eastern sages, whose visit to the young Jesus we heard told again today… a lovely romantic story filled with intrigue and mystery, but which in its final analysis means much more on a symbolic level than a literal one…. because, let’s face it, if we think it’s about three guys jumping on camels and traveling 1500 miles to deliver incense to a baby, or if we get caught up in the inevitable debate about whether the star actually existed, then we’ve really missed the point.
What captures my attention in this whole wonderful story is the notion that the wise men, using their skills as astrologers, followed a hunch and embarked on a quest that ultimately led them face to face with God incarnate. The message is all in their willingness to set out on a journey, to follow a star, and see where it would take them. It’s all in the willingness to be surprised in this exercise called life, to take a risk, and to be open to possibility. And the payoff is, in today’s world, just as in the story, God is still revealed to those who seek…. not simply to those considered “wise”, but to those with enough humility to recognize that the quest properly belongs to us all.
To me, the truth of the story of Epiphany is simply this: we may have to follow our own unique road to reach him, and he may be waiting for us in unlikely places, but Jesus IS there to be found…. in our families, friends and neighbours; in those we love and in those we fear and perhaps even in those we hate; in the unloved and the unlovable; in the big events which shake our planet, and in the daily mundane details of our lives; in silence and in celebration…… and not just once, but every single day, he is waiting to be manifested to those with eyes to see and hearts to accept.
Lord of all who seek, grant us the humility of open minds and enquiring hearts, that we may know you, and know joy, where and when you are revealed to us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The Venerable Nancy Adams