The knock on the door startles Mary from her housework.
She opens it to find a group of foreign men at her doorstep. They bring treasures for her toddling child, Jesus. They don’t bring rattles or stuffed animals, but strange gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts whisper clues to her child’s identity. Gold for a king, frankincense and myrrh—often burned as incense on the temple’s alter—speak to his deity.
On January 6th many churches celebrate “Epiphany” or the coming of the Magi to the Christ child. The word also can be used to describe a revelation or realization.
Mary has had a good many of these epiphanies thus far in her short life as a mother. First there was the angel Gabriel’s visit, and then Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting. There were shepherds arriving unannounced on the night of her son’s birth and Simeon’s temple prayer. She hides these epiphanies in her heart to ponder them.
As the new year begins I’m on the lookout for epiphanies too.
Mine probably won’t be as obvious as Mary’s. No angel visitations, I’m guessing.
But if I keep my eyes open and pay attention, I might discover what Elisabeth Elliot calls in her book, Be Still My Soul, “sacramental moments” in my ordinary days. Moments when I realize I’m in the presence of what she calls a “visible sign of an invisible reality.”
Sometimes I receive an epiphany in nature. In January here on the east coast of the U.S. I’m reminded how death brings forth life. How burial can produce growth. I may feel spiritually as hard and cold and barren as the frozen ground but growth can still be happening beneath the surface. The season reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 12:24: “”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Or perhaps I experience an epiphany of God’s love and grace through people. When my husband was unemployed, we received tangible gifts of money and work through friends and family. Or perhaps an encouraging and unexpected text on a weary day. Or the kind thoughtfulness of my husband who unexpectedly vacuums the house while I’m running errands.
Then there are the events that shape our lives the way the waves and waters shape the shore. Whether they are gentle or pound me, they offer me the chance to lean hard on God’s grace for either an irritation or a catastrophe. “The joy and sorrow we experience in the circumstances of our lives speak to us about the mysteries of God’s sovereignty,” Elisabeth Elliot writes knowingly.
Circumstances both large and small are opportunities to be more comfortable with mystery. Not every situation makes sense. But that doesn’t mean there’s no message contained within.
It probably didn’t make sense that Mary was roughly woken by Joseph right after the Magi’s visit to quickly pack and make haste for Egypt. Being warned in a dream of Herod’s wrath towards all babies under two, they had to leave town in the dead of night.
But like Mary we can choose to hide our sacred moments—our epiphanies—in our hearts to ponder. We can be on the lookout for messages of God’s love and grace in our ordinary days through nature, people, and events.
Sometimes we just have to pay attention.
Danielle Ayers Jones