Sacred mystery lies at the heart of Christmas and at the heart of Epiphany. We often treat Epiphany as if it were a sort of epilogue to Christmas, but Christmas without Epiphany might just have been the birth of a great Jewish prophet whose teachings have influenced the world ever since. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus was something more than that. I believe that the mystery at the heart of Christmas and Epiphany is the self-revelation of God to all people, the greatest mystery we can perceive.
When the Wise Men see the star and follow it, they think they are seeking a great king. And so they are, but not a king in the worldly sense. Not a person who orders the business of his kingdom, makes war, and dispenses justice. What they seek and find is a king of a different sort of kingdom. The Jews themselves are awaiting a Messiah, a leader who will lead them in fighting their way out of Roman oppression and into peace and prosperity. Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, but he is not a military leader, and he comes for all humankind, bearing the good news of God’s love – even to the hated Romans.
The Wise Men – and the bible gives us no indication that there were three of them, and no suggestion that they were kings, no matter what the great hymn says – represent an ancient tradition that still endures today and that is not limited by creed or ethnicity. This is the Wisdom tradition, the heritage of those who seek to experience God in ways that go beyond human reason. Wisdom seeks to experience God through God’s own revelation of Godself.
The word Epiphany means a showing or revelation. On the literal level of the ordinary world, the epiphany occurs when Mary holds up the baby Jesus before the Wise Men. On the sacred level of spiritual perception, the epiphany is God’s holding up of Godself in human form before us all. This is a revelation beyond the limits of reason, and it belongs to everyone. It is a revelation to all creation. It cannot be understood; it can only be experienced. It is an invitation to join in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, to recognize our connection to one another and to all of creation, and to know beyond reason the indwelling of God in each of us. Alleluia. Amen.