Removing the Training Wheels from EpiphanyEpiphany
For me, it was a sudden moment of understanding. I remember the day I announced to my dad that I was ready for him to remove the training wheels from my bike. I was convinced that I no longer needed them. He protested that I was not ready and that I was bound to wreck. He made it clear that once the training wheels were off, there would be no reinstalling them.
I remained firm that the time had come so my dad relented and took them off. I mounted the tiny bike and started down our street. There was a bit of a wobble, but I continued to stare straight ahead, peddle consistently, and gain speed. Somehow, I knew that all the rides I had taken with the training wheels on had prepared me for my first and subsequent rides with the training wheels off. My young mind could never have described my sudden decision as an epiphany.
We have always believed that an epiphany is when a light bulb goes off and one makes a remarkable discovery. On January 1, we are presented with the possibility of a year not yet experienced. I knew it was time to take off the training wheels, because I trusted that what I’d been taught and my experience riding every day would be enough to take the next step.
Epiphany, celebrated on January 6, honors the revelation of God’s presence to unlikely people in unlikely places. The Epiphany journey is framed by the ancient prophetic words from Isaiah which speaks of gifts that were to be brought to a future king. The prophet spoke words of comfort and hope for people in exile predicting gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were to be presented to a new king. These promises invited broken and discouraged people to look ahead and to grasp a hope that had long been missing from their lives.
The gospel of Matthew contains the second scripture that invites Israel to see the world in new ways as they hear and re-interpret the prophets’ familiar words from Isaiah. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
This Epiphany lesson for us is illustrated not by the Jewish faithful, but rather by Magi; Eastern worshippers of a religion known as Zoroastrian who studied astronomy to better understand and to predict the world. Their study of the stars and the planets helped them to recognize unusual planetary constellations. Imagine their wonder upon seeing that most unusual star which would make them drop everything and travel from Persia to Bethlehem.
The Magi arrived at King Herod’s palace and explained the reason for their unlikely journey. They quoted the prophet Micah, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore, he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.”
Likewise, the Magi knew our Isaiah scripture, “They shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” It’s like me knowing that everything I had done before taking off the training wheels prepared me to decide I could learn to ride without them.
The travelers were followers of another religion, yet they knew the Hebrew scripture well enough to act on that. Even King Herod wasn’t aware of what was going on 9 miles south of him in Bethlehem. The Magi were aware of the signs that the King would be born in Bethlehem, brought gifts of gold and frankincense according to the scripture ,and sought to worship the new King.
The Greek word for epiphany is “manifestation” which is certainly what happened to these visitors searching for Jesus. They experienced the presence of God as a result of their experience, preparation, and willingness to act.
The Magi teach us that new epiphanies are about trust. They had no idea what they would find. When they first saw the star in the East, they knew they needed to follow it. When the star disappeared, they knew that the ancient scripture told them to head to Bethlehem and another scripture guided them to bring gifts just right for one born king of the Jews. They trusted what they saw and read enough to be prepared for what they hoped they would find when they arrived.
The Magi teach us that new epiphanies are not about facts but about trust. They trusted they were being led to one who could fulfill what the scripture meant when it said, “Arise, shine, your light has come.” They trusted that light was still possible in a world that had known far too much darkness. They trusted they would find one who could help them make sense of their journey and when they did, they were finally able to worship.
The Magi did not sit behind their telescopes in Persia waiting for confirmation about the newborn king of the Jews. They mounted their camels and moved in the direction of trusting the scripture and being guided by the star would lead them to Jesus.
Their trust was risky and dangerous. Their trust led them into Herod’s palace which almost got them killed and set in motion Herod’s murderous campaign to rid the world of this supposed “king of the Jews.” The Magi were able to worship Jesus, and they were warned in a dream to travel home by a different road.
Our lesson this Epiphany can be discovered by asking: How do we come to see new truth and pay attention to God’s presence and action already at work in our lives?