By Steven Norris

     I enjoy a film that makes you really think and wrestle with a topic or idea. For example, I revel in a good “twist” at the end — one that forces you to go back and rethink everything up to that point. I’m talking about the “aha” moment when the lightbulb goes off and the viewer is ushered to an epiphany that reshapes both the past and future experience of the film.

     Epiphany is a holiday in the Christian year that serves as just such a plot twist. It is the day that we remember when Jesus was revealed as the Messiah. On Epiphany, we finally allow the magi to arrive in our manger scenes (if you are doing it properly), as they were the first ones to recognize the true identity of this “king of the Jews.”

     Epiphany offers us one of the great ironies of the gospels: those insiders who should have recognized Jesus’s true identity missed it while the outsiders were the first to point out the obvious truth. Those who were experts in the prophetic tradition over looked Jesus’s birth because he didn’t measure up to their expectations. Yet magi, who were both astrologers and Gentiles from the East were the ones who saw in the star a divine message and followed it to the Christ.

     We don’t know much about the magi. While tradition says that there were three of them, we don’t know the exact number. The fact that they brought three gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) lends to the tradition of three magi, though there certainly could have been more. They were certainly learned men and well-respected in their day.

     The magi point to the universal nature of Jesus’s birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The Son of God didn’t come for a limited number of religious insiders — he didn’t just come for the Jews. The magi foreshadow from the very beginning the expansive nature of Jesus’s love and salvation. Instead of drawing tighter boundaries, Jesus redefined what it meant to be a child of God.

     Next week, the church will celebrate Epiphany (January 6). As we do, may we we be willing to look for Christ in the unlikely places and faces of our world. May we be willing to hear words of truth rising up from the margins. May we be willing to see afresh by the light of an outsider’s candle and be inspired to give our best by the extravagance of an outsider’s gift. Instead of drawing the boundaries tighter, may we have the courage to expand the border of our love and compassion.

     The late great spiritual giant, Desmond Tutu, was fond of saying: “We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” The paradox of Jesus’s message may well prove true: the first will be last and the last shall be first. Those who seem farthest away may have the best view of God’s extravagant grace and mercy. Maybe this is the great plot twist of the Kingdom of God.

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