Home by another way

Daily Reading for January 6 • The Feast of the Epiphany

A colleague of mine noticed several years ago one of those marvelous phrases of multiple meaning strewn throughout our scriptures, the familiar reference to the magi who, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, . . . left for their own country by another road.” We both had noticed that the political acumen of the magi surely certified their wisdom. But it was my friend who noticed something else: that nearly everyone who encounters Jesus ends up going home by another way. The encounter with Jesus changes people, makes them different. After they have met this Jesus, they seem incapable—or certainly unwilling—to go back the same way they had come.

The Feast of the Epiphany and the season that follows is, for the church, a traditional season of mission and evangelism. Of course, for the modern church in America, there are very few mission fields left to us, few places where the basic outlines of the gospel has not penetrated geographical, political, and cultural barriers in one fashion or another. And evangelism demands some good news to proclaim, but too many days there seems precious little good to report. But there is still a ripe mission field remaining for each of us, if only we turn our sights inward.

I was reminded of this at a national conference for Episcopal students where we used varied liturgies from prayers books across the Anglican Communion. I was reminded of how very different we all are, and how much more so we grow daily. In this modern-day church, as in that ancient stable, those gathered really have nothing much in common. If we look around that manger, if we look at those who surrounded Jesus throughout his life, and even those who stood around at his death, we find that they were as diverse a lot as one might find. Like us. For truth be told, when you get right down to it, we probably really do not have much in common, you and I; the only thing we have in common is this person, Jesus. And that was certainly true for those of us who gathered at that conference. Even when we could not agree on what this Jesus looked like, or what he thought, or the meaning of what he said and did, we could still acknowledge that he was our common connection.

That was his singular gift, a genuine gift, something inherent in his person, and not some skill he crafted or stratagem he employed. For on the first Epiphany he was but an infant. Yet the force of his person was such that the different gathered around him.

From Daysprings: Meditations for the Weekdays of Advent, Lent, and Easter by Sam Portaro (Cowley, 2001).

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