There’s a thrift store near my house where I always, always, find something. When my daughter signed up for basketball and I didn’t want to buy her a new basketball she might never use past the season, there it was. When I thought, back in July, “Maybe I should buy ice skates for winter,” there they were. The ambitious craft project that required a hula hoop? Got it.
Of course, none of these things are life-or-death NEEDS, but I do think of it a little like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter. Tucked away on the 7th floor of Hogwarts Castle, you can always find what you need. And, marvelously, some things you didn’t realize you needed, as when this year I found an icon of the Adoration of the Magi the day before Epiphany.
Admittedly, the style is not one I would have chosen. The image is a beautiful traditional Orthodox design, but it’s mounted on an artificially aged piece of wood that looks like it was rescued from a fire and immediately dipped in polyurethane. Still, for $2.99, and on January 5, would you pass it up? My 10-year-old, his arms full of Star Wars figurines and an enormous Millenium Falcon model, was getting antsy to go and said, “Mama, just get it.”
So the next morning I brought it into my prayer space for my usual quiet time, and settled down to spend some time with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and these three visitors and their gifts, myrrh’s “bitter perfume of gathering gloom.” I sat there with them, trying to set aside all my expectations about what I think I know about the story, the usual jokes about how Wise Women would have brought more useful gifts and would have been on time, not 12 days late.
There’s a lot to love about the story. The Magi come from far away; they remind us that Jesus didn’t just come for important leaders in Jerusalem, or even just for his own people. He is a universal savior. As they meet Jesus for the first time, worlds collide.
Sitting in the early morning stillness, I noticed something. There, in the upper right corner of the icon, are the Magi traveling away, an angel pointing their way. The adoration is portrayed at the center, but that doesn’t tell their whole story. I looked at the Scripture text and read the last line: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.“ (Mt. 2:12).
What is this other road? Most of us have probably found ourselves there at some point. Sometimes we end up on the Other Road because something has gone wrong. Other times we choose the Other Road, hoping for something different in our lives. And, of course, sometimes it’s all you can do to put one foot in front of the other on any road.
Now, days after Epiphany, days after the tree has been taken down (or maybe it still sits glowering at you from the corner, another thing you still have to get done), the Magi are traveling. They came a long distance, and it will take a while to get home. Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened next for them. My icon reminds me that the way they leave is just as important as the way they came; the world they encountered in Jesus changes everything.
So that’s my days-into-Epiphany question: what changed? How did the world change when God was born as our brother, how did you change when you met him at the manger? Are you on the Other Road now, or is the same path you’ve been on forever somehow transformed? Where will the angels lead you?
How do you sit with the journey of the Magi in this season?