Before their were lightbulbs, what would you put over a person’s head in a cartoon to show they had a bright idea or an epiphany? Candles seem like waxy danger. Today is the day we celebrate the day people started to really ‘get’ who Jesus was and it its a little surprising who these folks end up being. Its also surprising who not only didn’t get it, they tried to shut the “Jesus” thing down. On this the day we ccelebrate Epiphany, I think “getting” who these people really were, might also give us a little epiphany about who Jesus is as well.
The first people who really thought something important was up were acttually a fairly motley crew: shepherds, a nut-job rebel, and some astrologers. This is what has me wondering if my presumptions and bright ideas about who Jesus is, and who sees him clearly, are a wee bit dim.
Angels first appear to the shepherds. They are dirty, poor outsiders. The first thing the angels have to say to these guys is, “be not afraid.” What’s awesome is that, apparently, once the angeles said it they indeed stopped being afraid and did as they were told. Without even so much as a drum to play – only a knees to bend on -they showed up. They got it. This is good news for them and for us as well because we don’t have to have frankisence to pay entrance.
The next big reveal is also a fairly surprising, if not scandalous. St Simeon was, as they say, intense. He was something of a nut-job, but a good one. The zealots, of which he was one, were religious extremists. This doesnt mean the were judgmental jerks or terrorists. They were extreme in that rebeled against Roman occupation and fought oppressive taxes on the poor and corruption. They insisted that the High Priest be elected by votes of ordinary people. Ordinary. Together they resisted the power of the Roman empire to preserve their commerce and culture. Perhpas it was the fact that Simeon looked out for the outsiders, for people like the shepherds, that helped flip his own switch and understand the kind of good news Jesus was bringing. He sais that this baby would be, “A light for the Gentiles,” more outsiders. These Gentiles were not Jews who were not even expecting a Messiah. “A light to those in darkness and death, to guide our feet in the way of peace ” Luke 2:29
The next bunch of misfits were these three wise guys, scholars, who were very possibly alchemists who knew something was up because they saw stars…. they were also astrologists. Very very much Gentiles. They practiced a life and a faith considered unclean. Nevertheless… they were looking.
Nowhere in the Gospels do the big-wigs really get it right off the bat. In fact it was king Herod from his throne that actually, for fear of potential revolution, had babies slaughtered. The wise guys, these outsiders to the faith, knew better than to say anything truthful to Herod because they knew he did not see Jesus as they did.
These are the folks -shepherds, rebels, dangerous learners – with the court side seats of the baby Jesus. This is good news for us. There are a lot of people in powerful positions, telling us they speak for Christianity but who apparently aren’t ‘getting it.’ I am not sure we are even talking about the same Jesus, at least not as the Shepherds, Simeon, and the Wise Men saw him.
Our job after Christmas is to try and see Jesus as clearly as we can. Now that he has come, who will he be? The way he came is, to us, dangerous because we have no idea where he will show up next. Christ, as it happens, has always been in Christmas. We have just been looking for him in the the check out lines instead of the soup lines. The sign we have been looking for has not been a star, angel, or good news to the poor, but a retail advertisement.
So I wonder why some Christians seem so afraid: afraid that there is a war on Christmas, afraid certain values are at risk. Of course maybe it makes some sense to be afraid. Maybe its not the changes in marketing, but Jesus himself who is the threat to some of those values. It is those who rely on power, instead of a manger, who remain afraid and miss the good news.
Mary and Joseph were, of course, shut out of the inn. But I have a feeling that sometimes we are also trying to keep the shepherds out of the stable. We may think the poor are a threat, but it turns out they may be key to understand what God is really up to. And as for those three alchemists, we might really want to try to keep them from ever meeting Jesus at all, being the icky Gentiles they are. But we must look for light where it is rather than where we might have assumed it to be.
Here is the bright idea, A lightbulb conspiracy, that we band together to find this Christ. Let is look. Let our eyes be opened and, God have mercy, let us be willing to be surprised. Let us learn from experience and look in unlikely places: mangers, shepherds, advocates for the oppressed, and seekers, poor people, the disabled, rebels, artists, misfits, lousy joiners and homesick souls. There is still, for us, so much more to be found. The best news is that the light is also looking for us.