Jan. 6, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Epiphany celebrates the revelation and manifestation of Christ the King to the Magi, and ultimately, the gentile world. The Magi journey across many miles following a star until it rests over the Christ child in Bethlehem. There, they offer the Christ child gifts worthy of a righteous and eternal king who is prophesied to provide abundance for his peoples, defend the cause of the poor with justice, deliver the needy, crush the oppressor and the violent, and bring peace (Psalm 72:1-7; 10-14).
As with all of Scripture, there are so many dimensions, insights, and facets of the Magi’s story we can focus and expound upon. Because our 2018 Great Plains Annual Conference theme this year is “Proclaim Christ,” I would like to focus on one particular facet of this beautiful Epiphany story – that is, how the Spirit of God leads and brings people to faith in Christ.
I’ve heard countless and fascinating stories over the years about how God’s Spirit draws people to faith in Christ. Some faith stories affirm how the lifelong nurture of their Christian family and church naturally led them on a pathway to become Christ followers. Others tell stories of supernatural or extraordinary encounters with God that led them to faith in Christ. Others come to faith when they find themselves, as the Psalmist says, saved from a “pit of death, in the mud and filth of life,” (Psalm 40:2 CEB).
Some people come to faith in Christ because they realize that something (or someone) is just missing in their lives, which, in turn, leads them on a search for truth, meaning, and purpose in life. The latter type of pilgrim resonates with what St. Augustine expressed: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Others come to faith in Christ because a health or relational crisis in their life compels them to reach out to God for healing. I once heard a story of one man who found a torn-out page from the gospel of John on the street and read it, which led him to surrender his life to Christ on the spot. Countless have surrendered their lives to Christ by reading a Gideon Bible found in a nightstand by the bedside.
I also heard a story of a Spanish-speaking man who walked by a United Methodist Church in South Texas and heard the congregation singing a hymn during a Sunday morning worship service. He was captivated by the beautiful melody of the hymn overflowing into the street and decided to walk into the sanctuary to join in the worship service. Although he could not understand English, the Spirit of God ministered to him through the singing and the music and led him to put his trust in Christ.
Then there are other stories of how intellectuals with objections to faith are led to faith through their own intellectual pursuit and journey. CS Lewis, an intellectual, accomplished scholar, former atheist, and reluctant convert, is a good example. Through his readings and conversations with Christian friends, Lewis came to recognize and admit that "God was God, and knelt and prayed.” Lewis went on to write 25 Christian books and sold millions of copies (titles include “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Mere Christianity,” “Miracles,” “The Abolition of Man,” and “The Problem of Pain.”)
The Magi were learned astronomers, scholars, and priests. They knew enough to know that the heavens spoke through the stars (Psalm 19:1-6). They observed that something unusual and extraordinary was happening in the heavens. And, they knew enough to search through their vast library of books until they came upon Old Testament Scripture, and specifically, the biblical prophecies in the Old Testament that mention a coming “child that would be King.” Somehow, God gave them enough light of understanding so they could make the connection between the natural phenomena they observed in the heavens and the biblical prophecies in the Old Testament.
God’s Spirit led the Magi to see and spiritually perceive what was really being communicated through what was happening in the heavens, to make spiritual judgments about what they saw, and to act on what they were discerning. Once they make their decision to pilgrimage, the Magi make commitments to each other, they make the necessary preparations, and with haste they take off on a pilgrimage of faith and discovery to verify and confirm their epiphany (spiritual insight) and emerging discernment. Perhaps the “overwhelming joy” they experienced when they reached their destination where the Christ child lay was the joy that comes when the growing hope within them and their obedience to that hope gave way to the attainment of a vision of Christ, which they believed in and hoped for beforehand (John 20:29; Hebrews 11:1-2; 1 John 3:2).
God’s Spirit continues to open people’s hearts and minds to spiritually perceive, receive, worship, and serve Christ in the world in as many unique ways as there are people. This Epiphany story continues to happen every day in our lives, in our congregations, our communities, and in the lives of people of other races, nations, and languages. Each day, God’s deep compassion breaks upon our world, forgiving sins, and giving light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, guiding us all in the path of peace (Luke 1:77-79).
Friends, we are all on a pilgrimage of faith and hope that continually grows our love for God and others through the years. Each day, new people come to the realization that God is God, and Christ is Savior and Lord. People everywhere seek and need mature disciples and vital congregations that can spiritually nurture, guide, and encourage them on their pilgrimage of faith and hope.
My prayer is that the epiphanic light of God will shine so brightly through our pilgrim lives and our congregations so that new hearts, tender hearts, restless hearts, broken hearts, and searching hearts may attain spiritual insight, see and discern God’s gracious activity in their lives, and find their way into the fulness of Christ’s overwhelming love, mercy, joy, and promises.
Have a blessed Epiphany!
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.