The Encounter with Christ – Epiphany – The 11th Day of igNation’s 12 Days of Christmas
T.S. Eliot writes of being “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation” toward the end of The Journey of the Magi. Once we have encountered Christ, something must change in our lives. The old normal no longer works.
We have seen the Christ and like the wise ones of old we can no longer go home by the familiar route. They were warned in a dream. Our own warning may come from all kinds of sources, such as the memory of actual living persons whom we have encountered.
There is one Epiphany, but there are an infinite number of epiphanies. Each of us encounters Christ in ways that are unique to us. Some discover Christ alive for them in their work with the poor. For others, it comes through a life-altering experience of a foreign culture.
Some experience an epiphany through their work with the dying. Many young people experience an epiphany in an immersion program in a foreign culture or a foreign situation in their own culture.
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in the USA has an informal motto: ruined for life. The point is that once a young person devotes a year or two of life to an intense experience of volunteer social justice work, they are ruined for life. In other words, their eyes and hearts have been opened to some of the harsh and painful realities that people live with, and those volunteers are now unable to resume life as usual, life as if their eyes have not been opened. Many former volunteers make career choices based on their JVC experience.
We hear the Prophet Isaiah speak today: “Rise up in splendour, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. … Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” Isaiah was prophesying about the Messiah.
But, “your heart shall throb and overflow” describes well the newfound energy and zeal of many who have had their eyes opened in a new way in an epiphany experience.
“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” That’s how St. Matthew describes the wise men from the East and how they searched for the child who has been born king of the Jews. Their overwhelming joy came from the discovery of the child that they had searched for with intent. They knelt down and paid him homage.
The Magi searched by following a star. Others of us search in other ways, for instance, trusting in the mysterious unfolding trajectory of life, looking for patterns of God’s action in our lives. Some spend a lifetime searching, trusting in St. Augustine’s reminder that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
Call to mind Anna the Prophetess, an elderly Jewish woman in Luke’s Gospel. She had waited a lifetime. The other figure at the presentation in the temple is Simeon. He also waited a long time and is now able to proclaim, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.” His eyes have finally seen what was long-promised.
A touching Christmas opera is Amahl and the Night Visitors, composed by Gian Carlo Menotti. He took his inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Adoration of the Magi. Here are the words of the piece Love Alone.
The Child we seek
doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone
he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no sceptre,
his haloed head will wear no crown;
his might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning
he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life
and receive our death,
and the keys to his city
belong to the poor.