Feast of the Epiphany.A.20
The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
Wisdom comes in many shapes and sizes. What seems wise to one person, may appear to be the hight of foolishness to another. In fact, just when we think the gold ring of wisdom is almost within our grasp—it’s then we discover we must hearken back to the words of St. Paul, reminding us that if we are to be truly wise, we must be fools for Christ. Here’s what I know: there are a good many books out there suggesting they can help you become financially stable—if not wealthy, slim, if not downright skinny, beautiful, fit and fabulous and have the home of your dreams; but there are few books out there purporting to make you wise. Wisdom, as opposed to knowledge, is one of those things which no one can really teach you. It has an elusive quality. There are no proven paths to lead you down the road to enlightenment—just the one you design for yourself.
It’s not uncommon for us to associate wisdom with age. I find myself somewhat inclined to agree with this—but I find just can’t jump on to this particular bandwagon with wholehearted enthusiasm. Not because I believe people of an older generation to be lacking in intelligence (far from it), but because I’ve heard words of wisdom from the mouths of babes, in the earnest idealism of adolescents and from those just beginning their adult lives. I have seen (in my time) that wisdom does not always accompany age. It has a tendency to, I’ll grant you that—for to fail to aquire some amount of wisdom by the time one is, say—in their eighties—takes a determined measure of stubbornness born of blindness. And, truth be told, few of us are really all that stubborn. So, if wisdom were to have one common feature, it would be (in my mind) that those who are wise choose to live in the light rather than surrounding themselves by darkness.
This is what the wise men have to teach us this morning. Wisdom, true wisdom, comes from following the light. It comes from being firmly fixed on that which you choose to follow. Wisdom comes from faithfulness, from inquisitiveness—and, as the wise men show us, it also comes from a healthy measure of craftiness as well.
Many of us assume the wise men were kings. And, if this is has been our assumption, it can hardly be considered our fault—since this is precisely what we have been led to believe through lovely hymns such as “We three kings of orient are”. But the Bible never tells us the Maji were kings—instead, they were wise men. For all we know, they might have been very poor wise men who scraped together their last pennies to give the baby Jesus such costly gifts.
And, about these men… I suspect there were not too many people living in the land of the East, from whence they came, who believed them to be truly wise. Think about it. How wise could it be to travel by camel at night, risking thieves, scorpions and who knows what else, to find what they did not know they were looking for? If handed a similar scenario, most of us would not call these men wise. If we were kind, we would refer to them as “eccentric” If we were less generous, we would call them ill-advised and foolish.
But look closer at the Gospel lesson from Matthew. These men, they weren’t blindly trusting, as evidenced by their dealings with Herod. Despite their knowledge that this child was to be the Savior of the World they were wise enough to know not to send him into the hands of Herod. And so, despite their joy they returned home by another way. Wisdom, it seems, also means knowing when to follow your instincts and run away.
Despite the fact that we know very little about the Maji—not their number, nor even their names—they have a great deal to teach us about being wise. Follow the light, even in the midst of darkness, keep following the light. It will take you where you need to go.
That star, which guided the wise men on their journey to Bethehem, it was more than a great light shining in the sky over that tiny town. It was a symbol of the true light of Christ which continues to guide us as we travel our journey of faith. As obvious as this light must have been to the people down below, t’s meaning was not apparent to everyone. It is a reminder to us that the truly wise among us aren’t always great in number. Consider just who showed up to greet the newborn king? Painfully few, as it turns out.
So, here’s the truth of the Gospel for today. The light shines in the darkness so that all may see it—but not everyone chooses to follow. In its own way, the star shining in the night sky is a reminder that the light of Christ is available to everyone—the world over. It is also a reminder that getting to where it leads takes both inquisitiveness as well as commitment, a dedication to finding out just where that light is leading, and then following it, despite whatever obstacles may face you on the way.
Wisdom requires a combination of reflection and action. The wise among us aren’t simply those individuals who use their time to reflect on the great mysteries of the universe. Reflection doesn’t necessarily make a person wise—that makes you thoughtful. Think of it this way: No one becomes a Christian by thinking about Christianity. One becomes a Christian by being a Christian. Of the many things which this star has to teach us, this is indeed a fundamentl point. Many people saw a star—few of them followed to where it led. Those who risked the journey, were indeed, truly wise For wisdom comes from living. And true life—well, it resides in Christ. I wish y ou good luck and God speed on your journey. If ever there comes a time when you discover you don’t know where you are going, simply follow the light. It always leads you home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.