Sunday, January 8, 2012

God Surprises: The Epiphany of the Lord

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” – Mt 2:11

It is not a bad thing to look for signs. We need signposts to go on our way. We need clues to follow the path meant for us. Like the magi, we look for great, rising stars to show us the way toward God. Yet, we tend to focus on the signs rather than to where they point.

The scene of the magi’s visitation in today’s Gospel is almost anticlimactic. The wise searchers from the East have spent many years looking for the star. They went to the place of power and prestige to discover further. They were missioned by King Herod. The found and followed the great star, overjoyed. The build-up depicts an elaborate Hollywood epic. Yet, what did they find? A mother and her child, wrapped in swaddling cloth, in a cave-like manger,  surrounded by livestock and shepherds. Raymond Brown had said that the shepherds were not only poor, a good number of them were crooks. The king of the Jews, born in poverty, among shady people. Matthew did not even describe Joseph in the picture, whereas immediately before this passage, the evangelist described in details Joseph’s choice to remain with Mary. A startling discovery for wise men who spent so much time, money, and effort in search of God.

The magi discover what baffles many of us: God reveals Godself in surprising ways. Often through suffering and disbelief. I have been sad, disappointed, even felt betrayed at the resignation of Bishop Gabino Zavala, my regional bishop. Like so many people, he is for me a wonderful sign of God’s love for the poor, for ordinary people, for immigrants and union workers, for sound human judgment in huge bureaucratic systems. Although his trespasses do not negate the immense good that he did, there is a huge let down. As I sat with my not-so-positive feelings and shared them honestly without mincing words with the Lord, I saw in the eyes of Jesus sadness. Gradually his look turns to compassion. Then slowly, I experienced a profound sense of love and trust from him. It was like he was saying, “I am with you, all of you. I trust you to be my compassionate presence through your pain, to bear my grace through your fears, to be my healing through your brokenness.” What happens to Bishop Zavala happens to me, what happens to his children happens to me, what happens to broken families happens to me. And yet, God happens. God reveals Godself through anticlimactic happenings. We can look for signs. Even broken signs. Yet, it’s good to look where they point to, to whom they lead. That’s the power of signs. That’s the power of God who surprises.

Let us allow ourselves to wonder, in disbelief, in awe, as we come to God with honest feelings and thoughts lay bare, and allow God’s revelation to shine in surprising ways.

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