It made me think about how utterly terrifying it can be for a child to be separated from his or her parents, especially in a loud, crowded, unfamiliar place like that. Even if the separation isn’t real--even if the parent can still see the child, and has just stepped out of the child’s line of sight for a second--the child will be terrified. It’s not enough for the parent to be there, keeping a watchful eye--the child also has to be able to see that the parent is there.
It struck me that this is what the Feast of the Epiphany that we celebrate this week is really all about. At Christmas we celebrate the great good news that God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it. The scenes that take place in the stable in Bethlehem and in the surrounding hills are just the beginning of the story. Epiphany is a key part of the Christmas story--the part of the story in which the focus shifts from God’s initiative, from God’s great love, to our human response. It’s not enough for Christ to be born among us--we also have to know that Christ is here. The Epiphany is about people beginning to realize that a Savior has been born for them. If we’re going to have a relationship with Christ, the kind of relationship that can transform our lives, it’s not enough for Christ to be watching over us. We have to be able to see him, too.
And this means we have to search for him. Like the magi, we can’t be satisfied with just knowing that Christ was born, that he’s out there somewhere. To see for ourselves, we have to go out looking for him. Like for the magi, there are signs that point to Christ’s presence; but for us, the signs are in our lives, not in the sky. We have to look for the ways Christ is present and active and working in our lives. When we experience a moment of peace in the midst of a time of anxiety, a peace that we did not and could not create for ourselves; when we are surprised by a glimmer of hope rising up in us, despite all the reasons we’re sure that nothing will turn out right; when we find ourselves drawn to doing the harder thing, the more courageous thing; when we feel ourselves in some mysterious way accompanied and loved, and moved to accompany and love others; when a beloved friend or a total stranger says something to us that turns out to be the exact word we need to hear--all these are signs pointing to Christ’s presence in our lives.
And of course, Epiphany also reminds us that we are called to lead others to Christ. The star is such a central symbol of Christmas, and such a fitting symbol of what Christ asks us to do: to light the way for others, to lead others, especially those who are far off, into relationship with him. At least four parishioners this Christmas told me about families who had accepted their invitations to come to church--to worship with us during Advent, to join us for Christmas Kickoff, to come to Christmas Mass. And dozens more members volunteered to serve as greeters this Advent and Christmas, to ensure that when these families arrived at church for their first time, in response to an invitation from a friend or neighbor, they would be warmly welcomed. These are such encouraging signs of growth in our parishes--thank you so much to all who extended invitations to join us, and all who helped provide a welcoming spirit at New Roads this Christmas.
Take your next step: This week, look for signs of Christ’s presence in your life, signs of peace, hope, joy, love, and guidance. See if you can find one sign of Christ’s presence every day.