1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
“There are three things that form faith in us: first, turning to the Lord; second, learning truths from the Word; and third, living by those truths. Now, because there are three parts to the formation of faith and each one is not the same as the others, it follows that they are separable. People could turn to the Lord and not know any truths about God and the Lord except things they had been told in the past. People could also know a great many truths from the Word and still not live by them. People for whom these three things are separated, meaning that they have one but not another, do not have a faith that will save them. A faith begins to have saving power when these elements are connected. The quality of the faith depends on what kind of connection the three have….The light from a faith in which these elements are kept separate is like the light of a glowing coal in the hand of a traveler at night, while the light from a faith in which these elements are connected is like the light of a blazing torch that makes each step clear as it is moved back and forth….A faith in the Lord that lacks truths is like a new star that appears in the sky but then dims after a while. A faith in the Lord that has truths is like a fixed star that endures forever. Truth is the essence of faith. Therefore the quality of the truth determines the quality of the faith. Without truths, faith wanders around; with them, it stays in one place. In fact, a faith made of truths shines in heaven like a star. True Christianity n.348
Today you are invited to invent a purpose for the year. Not an intention. A mission. A target. What will your world look like in 365 days? Here is a suggested form of the question to start with: What will your life be like when you dedicate a precious desire, or a firmly held belief, or an intentional practice, to the establishment of the Lord’s love and wisdom in the world, and in your spiritual life?
To begin, today is an ancient Christian feast day called Epiphany, which remembers the appearing, (which is what epiphany means), of the divinity of Jesus Christ. For we note in the Matthew account that the wise men from the east came to worship a king. They came looking for the Messiah, the appearing, the presence, of the predicted incarnation of Jehovah, the Divine Itself.
A wonderful extension of that old Greek word epiphany has come to mean that we can have a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence. So let us consider how the story of the wise men in the Bible reveals to us the spiritual process of our discovery of the divine, of the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives and in the world so that our lives can have a purpose, a mission, that participates in that love and wisdom.
When the men arrived where Jesus was, after a months-long journey, they completed the entire purpose of their trip by handing over three gifts: some gold, some frankincense and some myrrh. The gold was likely in small coins that could be used as money. The frankincense and myrrh were likely small rocks of hardened resin that would be burned for ritual or simply as a pleasant odor. They also could be crushed into powders that would be used as medicine for joint and blood circulation problems. The myrrh would have been especially helpful to a mother who had just given birth and so had bled alot. These gifts meant that Mary and Joseph would be able to take the child anywhere they needed to, right away! So when the Lord then told Joseph to flee to Egypt, they had the wherewithal to do it.
These gifts that marked these men’s adoration of Jesus. They indicated that the men were worshipping Jesus. They believed He was the incarnation of Jehovah, the promised Messiah. In order to understand how the men got to this belief, and in order to understand how that describes our spiritual development, there are some facts we have to surmise from the text.
First there was the star; one star amongst all the others. They saw it because they were attentive to the stars. They were curious. They wanted to learn. And so they noticed when the new star appeared. And they were wise enough, and experienced enough, and they had worked hard enough, that they connected the new star with the ancient prediction and prophecy of the Messiah in the land of Canaan, now Israel.
This describes how I come to see a new idea. Why do I notice a certain feeling amongst all the others? Why am I attracted to a new behavior that is different from my normal habits? My attention is caught because something nags at me. Some thought, feeling or action pokes me. It counters my current thinking, feeling, or way of being. And because I am a seeker of the truth, even though I have to work at it, I begin to follow that new “star.” For I well know the prediction and the prophecy: I will find a new king, a new leader; a new direction in my life if I follow where that star is leading me. That promise, that prophecy, gives me hope. And it is this hope for a better existence, with more satisfaction, joy, fulfillment and usefulness, that motivates me to do the work to make it my king. I am willing to take a long journey. I will complete the journey, regardless the detours, bad advice and cunning evil spirits, so long as I keep focused on that new star.
This appears in my life as the thoughts, feelings and actions that I think, feel and sense are mine, that I am willing to put into service of this new way of being that has appeared to me. Note that when the new idea, feeling or behavior appears, it is outside of me. Or at least looks and feels foreign. And yet I go to a lot of effort and give a lot of energy and attention to giving myself to it. As I do so, I internalize, I adopt it as my own. It becomes mine. The Lord has designed this to happen on both the psychological and spiritual levels. It is how I change for the better.
The wise men show us that the best way to accomplish this is to make my effort to follow the star a gift. I freely and willingly, even if with doubt and effort, give up my old thought, my old will, and my old body, to the purpose of the Lord’s goodness and truth in my inner and outer life. The ordinary occurrences of my life then become striking! I have had an epiphany.
And here is what happens. The myrrh I give up symbolizes some action, some behavior, or some habit I have had which this new love and wisdom needs. This can be weight loss. And it can be something much more important. For instance it may be being still to meditate. It may be journaling. It may be reading. It may be time with another person. It may be a craft. Whatever it is, it becomes ordinary. However, it is now devoted to a very high and deep purpose: cooperating with the Lord that He will appear in those ordinary actions. And they become striking. The Divine love and wisdom are now being made manifest in your intentional, spirit-filled actions.
And now, thanks to the revelation of the second coming, we are invited to consider this same process happening on deeper levels. The frankincense symbolizes the thoughts, ideas, cognitions, reasoning I have that this new love and wisdom the star has revealed to me. It can be as simple as positive thinking, which has great benefits. And it can be labeling some thoughts as negative and stopping them. It may be noticing the unhappiness that you feel every time you think a certain thought. Regret is an example – it can take over your thoughts and drive you into despair (which is exactly what evil spirits try to do). Now your positive thinking, your attention to negativity, your stopping certain thoughts, all have a higher purpose. It is to allow the Divine to appear in your life. The Divine love and wisdom can inspire – breath into – you higher thoughts of goodness and truth. And your normal, ordinary way of thinking is radically altered. A light from a bright star now guides you. You make your thoughts now to be gifts, a fragrant odor of pleasure and delight.
Finally, the gold symbolizes your will, intentions, desires, and loves that the epiphany needs in order to become the source of a new will, purer intentions, deeper delights and more powerful loves. It can be an intention to feel differently, a desire to be kinder, a rekindling of love in friendship or marriage. Perhaps you have felt weak willed. Or perhaps the star has revealed ignoble motives that you want to change. When you commit to giving all your heart, desires, intentions – your gold – to the emergence of the Divine love and wisdom, they become noble. Your desires are transmuted, regenerated, made new. You now have a higher purpose for your life, which is now the core all that you love. The Lord incarnates Himself in your will, in your intentions and desires. And your normal way of feeling inside yourself – including your emotions – become striking to you. Your epiphany has reached the deepest level of your spirit. A most precious gift has been given to the Lord, and it is the complete act of worship, of accepting Him as your spiritual king.
What is wonderful in all this is that the Lord incarnates Himself, as the king of all behavior, thought and will, in those behaviors, thoughts and desires that we have long held as belonging to us! Now, to be sure, there are addictive behaviors, false ideas and selfish desires. These all can be seen, identified for what they are, and more or less easily put away in the light of the new star, the new truth that Lord has brought to our attention. The amazing occurrence is that the Lord actually recreates His love and wisdom in us whenever we actually love, think and behave as if they are gifts to Him from us!
Perhaps the best intention we can set for this year is to simply pack our spiritual bags and begin the journey towards the new way of being that we have been shown. Let us not put it off as too much work. Let us not think small of ourselves, as unworthy for the great task before us. Rather, let us raise our heads to see the new star in the constellation that is our lives. Let us hope in the Lord, and He will show us the way, so that we too may come, see the child, worship Him, and open our treasure chests and give Him our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.