There are those moments in life when we expect one thing and get another. It is amazing to see how the mind works. So often we perceive things with our eyes that can be not true at all. My best friend Steve and I faced this situation in college. When I first heard about him it was through girls. I heard their stories of how cool he was. When I saw him in his tech vest standing outside of chapel, my first impression was that he thought he was super cool. When I found out he played football and the tuba, I quickly drew many other conclusions about him. I never gave him a fair shot. Then to top it all off he decided to be pre-seminary, meaning for some reason he thought it would be cool to be a pastor. It was like he just wanted to jump on any bandwagon he could find--football, orchestra, and even a pastoral calling. At the time, we had a very personable pre-seminary director, who seemed to draw people in. But in a case like Steve’s, I was not buying it. Eventually we both headed for the pre-sem retreat, and there we began to get to know each other. I soon learned that he was passionate about the same music and artists that I liked. He was a deep thinker and studiously contemplated many things in life. Our friendship took off when I took the time to see past my first impressions of him, and not rely on misconceptions built on stereotypes. By the time I left college he was my best friend. Our friendship still revolves around many foundational issues in our lives, and has taken on several new topics.
You never really expect to talk about misconceptions in Scripture. But there are several historical discrepancies in the Epiphany account, which cover up the true meaning of what is really going on. Don’t you think if God’s Word described someone as a wise man, it would be Solomon? Don’t you think if these men were truly wise men they wouldn’t have been so easily tricked by the king? And who ever said there were three of them? Maybe the hardest one to accept--because it takes some cultural knowledge--wouldn’t the wise men, kings, magi, know what gifts to bring Jesus? All of these misconceptions distract us from understanding why they came to see Jesus, which totally confuses the meaning of Epiphany. I like the definition of Epiphany as a striking appearance, because it properly conveys the power of this story. These men typically served kings, wrote horoscopes (well, the versions written back then), and were not considered wise at all. They were the least likely people to see Jesus. That is why striking appearance is something that fits better. Imagine how they must have wondered what in the world had just happened to them. They were meeting the Messiah! What were they supposed to do about that? It was striking to see the appearance of Jesus, which was totally unlike anything they expected from Herod’s direction. God can take hold of anybody, no matter what the appearance or story the world has put on them.
I can hear it ringing in my ears, “Pastor, what I want to tell you is, I got a telegram from God.” She was so sure and then she went on to say, “I know He protected my soul through all the testing.” You never get to decide when God brings His striking appearance into your life. You can reject it or ignore it, but time and time again Jesus comes to rescue all people. His timeline may not fit our own, but He comes with His love, joy, and peace and you know this is nothing our world can offer. So often we can see our own misconceptions of what we expect this life to be, or even how we expect God to handle things. I knew Carol Eckert’s encounter with God would be striking to Mt. Calvary as well as to me, but for Carol, His appearance was an Epiphany to go home. The last time she could really talk as we were planning her funeral service, she hugged and kissed me and said, “I got something special for you, buddy.” You never forget those striking appearances of Jesus in His people. And while the story of the Epiphany may contain misconceptions because of manger scenes, childhood stories, and live nativities, the power of how Jesus appeared to these men was unbelievable. It reminds us that this story will never lose its power, and that not a single misconception can change the Epiphany of God’s plan to rescue all people.