An Epiphany Defying Expectations
The Magi set out. They knew what they were about. They were wise, wealthy, prepared with gifts and likely a large caravan of supplies and support. They set out knowing where they were going, following the star. They set out knowing what they would find, the newborn king. They set out full of expectations.
Full of their expectations and certainties, they went to where one would expect to find the newborn king – the city of Jerusalem, on the front step of Herod’s palace. They found that no one else was expecting what they knew. Scholars and priests had to dig through prophecies and scrolls. Finally, they were sent out again. Revised expectations and affirmed by the star ahead, they set out.
What did they think upon entering the town of Bethlehem? When did they start to realize that this was not the royal birth expected? When did they begin to question what they knew, what they thought, perhaps even question themselves?
As their expectations were crumbling, this left these learned, wealthy men vulnerable, open. Their caravan, their animals, their servants and slaves, would not have fit into the home of this newborn and his mother. When these men approached Mary and Jesus, how little they could carry into the humble house. What were their thoughts as they laid face down on that floor, prostrate before this king? Did one wonder whether perhaps their gifts should have been a bit more useful as he glanced at the simple home? Did another wonder whether his wisdom failed and he misread the signs?
Whatever they were expecting, they found the King not only of the Jews, but of all Creation. In the small child, in the small town of Bethlehem, they found the Savior.
Last year at this time we all had expectations – likely very reasonable ones of what our year would be. I expected to see friends and family, involving trips to Michigan, Boston, Texas. I expected to enjoy time with friends over the summer, relaxing after a hectic time of overlapping courses and work. I expected to celebrate my fortieth in some fun way, perhaps at Disney, perhaps with a great party, definitely with my family. All those expectations disintegrated as 2020 wore on. The last year ended far from where my expectations began. There were losses, grief, immense transitions, more work, and more school work than I anticipated.
In the last year I have been astounded by grace. Grace is fundamentally a gift and fundamentally creative. Never have I witnessed God’s creativity so immeasurably carried out as I have in the past year. There are the little moments of grace – friends sharing home cooking and treats, outdoor movie nights in the summer, picnics in parks, web calls over dinner time, and texts at all hours from all sorts of friends and family. I am astounded by the grace I see at work in the faith communities with whom I work. I am humbled by the devotion, selflessness, and extraordinary efforts of the volunteers and staffs working for all in the community. I see neighbors reaching out, helping in small and large ways. People continue to find small, yet extraordinary ways to share love and joy, participating in God’s creative grace.
This last year showed us how much in our society is broken. There is much work to be done. The past year, as it stripped away my expectations, the comfort I take in routine, showed me where God is at work in the world. I see God in those advocating and working for justice. I see God in the selfless work of those in the medical professions and other front lines of the pandemic. I see God in the underappreciated staff at groceries and stores. I see God in the small, simple acts and words of friends and family spoken over web calls and through face masks.
This year, this Epiphany, is a call to set aside our expectations for 2021. Instead of setting resolutions and expectations, let us instead seek encounter. May we encounter God in small and grand ways. May we put aside all we carry so as to greet with humility the presence of God, the spark of the Holy Spirit within one another. May we then, through that encounter, humbly work to continue the building of the kingdom in justice, love, and presence.