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AfterWords | Epiphany: Along the Road (January 8, 2023)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Dave Ake

“A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.” Richard Rohr

Many years back when there was a movie coming out, the infamous words “In a World” would lead off the movie trailer. As I pondered today’s message, I thought back to what Epiphany might have been like if they had 2023 technology.

In a World…

From Twitter…

@Starsceptic87 – Ok, we all know that these three wise guys are being backed by the Persians as a distraction from the real show going on in Rome. They think the Emperor is a joke, and this “star” is a way of thumbing their nose at us.

@MaggaiNotMyGuy67 – Here in Galilee, we are trying to just get by—enough of these conspiracies! My friend caught Balthasar flashing this anti-Israeli gesture when he stopped for supper last night and just put it on Instagram, link is here. We have seen so many YouTube videos about the filthy land these folks come from and how they do not believe in what we believe.

@Galil-Lee454 – If we are gonna have a messiah come, he sure as heck will not be hanging out in a barn! Will all these Messiah Minions stop with amateur footage of a baby chillin’ with cattle? One thing I am certain of—this is not what redemption looks like!

It’s tempting to think that conspiracies and cynicism are unique to this age. I am sure if they had social media back then, the same spiral of reactivity would be evident. There is a simplicity of a story here that allures me.
How can we recapture the magic of Epiphany? What is the story trying to tell us?

First off, I am aware that we live in an age where we are in information overload. Think back to our 0 BCE brothers and sisters. They had their family, neighbors, and the government as content generators. Today, I could argue that the inverse is true. Podcasts, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the 24-hour news cycle often load us with opinions before we have asked someone close to us what we think.

Honestly, many times I walk in Sunday morning with an agenda of something like this: How does this contribute to my life? How can I use this to get to where I want to go in life? How can I feel better this morning?

There is nothing wrong with desiring any of these things. But I skate very close to turning Jesus into a Divine Life Coach if church is just another content stream on my path to self-realization. Jordan talked about holding our lives up to the Light of Christ. I am very drawn to a Christianity that is all light. I can remember countless times I interacted with the scriptures with an approach of The Lamb’s Lifehacks: How do I live the victorious Christian life? How do I leave behind the past?

Sometimes I open the Bible with an agenda of the Masochistic Messiah: Why am I still not measuring up? How can I taste grace when I have failed so profoundly? This is a clever way of avoiding the dark as well, by turning my self-hate project into a “spiritual exercise” that reinforces a rigid view of myself as dark, fallen, and barely tolerable in God’s eyes. As long as I pound my chest with what a failure I am, I don’t have to wrestle with the subtle ways I am absent from real struggle and change.

Carl Jung asserted that “the brighter the light, the darker the shadow.” Both of the approaches above keep me focused on my life in a way that keeps it manageable and life on my terms—all victory, or pseudo struggle.
Ok, so now you may be asking—What the heck does this have to do with Epiphany?

If I choose to follow the three wise men, I intend to stay on the road of transformation and be led to a new place. The lens widens from my small life into the larger story of birth, loss, redemption, and grace—both personal and global.

I don’t need lifehacks because now my desire is to bring my whole self to the light of Christ—to be comforted and disrupted. Parts of me remain in shadow, parts of me that have been disallowed by myself or others. I trust the Spirit to help me do the work of acknowledging the shadow and integrating it throughout my journey. Furthermore, I am open to be confronted with the reality that at times I want to stay wrapped up in my small story because radical change scares me.

To choose the road of really living will be uncomfortable, wonderful, and unnerving. I think Dan Fogelberg captures the heart of this in Along the Road:

Joy at the start
Fear in the journey
Joy in the coming home
A part of the heart
Gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road.

Along the road
Your path may wander
A pilgrim’s faith may fail
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Darkness obscures the trail.

Cursing the quest
Courting disaster
Measureless nights forebode
Moments of rest
Glimpses of laughter
Are treasured along the road.

Along the road
Your steps may stumble
Your thoughts may start to stray
But through it all a heart held humble
Levels and lights your way.

One of my favorite lines in this song is “A part of the heart gets lost in the learning.” I have found this to be a healthy caution to not rationalize and literalize the story of Epiphany, but to stay connected to my heart. Empowered by grace, I am daily journeying toward the light of Christ and wholeness.

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