Monday, January 9, 2017

Taking new directions in life is sine qua non in real Christian living.

The celebration of Epiphany comes a couple of weeks after Christmas in the Latin rite.  The story of how the wise men or Magoi take such an arduous journey from their homeland to pay homage to a tiny, helpless and vulnerable baby is indeed charming.  But the truth that this story imparts is far more than merely charming or delightful.  It has deep implications that many may miss if it is only taken as a story that scarcely has any connection to our Christian lives.

One of the things that ought to strike us is how the lives of these wise men were changed and impacted from just a singular visit to this infant king of the Jews.  It necessarily means that anyone who is serious in his or her search for truth in life has to allow change and conversion to take place if he or she is certain that Jesus is God.  There is what seems to be a throwaway line at the end of the whole Epiphany episode where we are told that ‘they went back in a different way’.  This phrase has layered meanings, and they go deep.

Every time a person reflects on the path that he has chosen to walk in life and sees it against the light of Christ’s life and makes the conscious choice to live differently in a positive way, one also, like the Magoi, goes back to life in a ‘different way.’  One sees the values of the world in a different way, one measures happiness in a different way, and one defines success in a different way.  But this only can happen if one is certain that Jesus is God.  If we are not clear and fully convinced about the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, the changes that we make in our life and the direction that our lives are heading will only at best be ‘window dressing’ and superficial, where nothing much changes essentially.  One spiritual writer once put it this way – it will be only like shifting the furniture on the Titanic as it is sinking after striking the iceberg. 

Presbyterian theologian and writer Timothy Keller made the astute comparison of how Jesus the God-man impacts humanity “like a giant billiard ball.” Jesus indeed breaks up old patterns and sends people off in different directions, for better or for worse.  King Herod is a prime example of how the news of the incarnation was received badly.  And to be sure, there are and have been millions who have taken the news of Jesus the God-man so negatively.  The prevalence of so many angry atheists who are particularly vitriolic towards Christianity simply proves this as fact.

It is when we do truly get it that in Jesus God has spoken loudly and clearly about getting our lives in right order, that we will see not only wisdom but an undeniable moral imperative in redirecting our lives that we too, imitate the ways the Magoi responded to their visit to the infant king in that grotty manger. 

I can understand that this is a very great challenge for many, especially for lives that are mired in webs of sin, where souls can be calloused from being so used to living predominantly for the self.  This is when the Christian needs to pray not just for tenacity but a moral courage to live out his or her prophetic calling, and following his conscience.  It takes courage to want to let Jesus “take the wheel” as singer Carrie Underwood sang in her 2005 Country Christian hit of the same name.

Though we may believe that it is good to let Jesus take the wheel of our lives, we often end up being the vehicle commander and give Jesus the instructions of where the destination should be, where to turn, how much faster (or slower) he should go, where he should not be stopping and which side roads he should avoid.  But often, when Jesus is truly taking the wheel as he should in our lives, we will find him taking us to places where we would never go on our own, but realise (often in hindsight) that it is at these places where we find our lives truly transformed. 

Like the Magoi, if we really encountered the Son of God in Jesus, we will go back to our lives in a different way, and we will not fear where we will be taken.  For many of us, it is only when we are old and weather-beaten that we will be willing to be led, as Jesus told Peter in John 21:18. 

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

1 comment:

  1. "Epiphany" releases childhood memories of things mysterious and exotic for like colorful marbles, words like frankincense, gold and myrrh, a dazzling star that guides and leads hearts seeking the infant Jesus.....danced before our eyes - it was pure magic for us children brought up in the ways of the Mission schools that celebrates the Incarnation yearly with Christmas pageant plays.

    Even now........each year, the heart still flutters with this air of expectancy of something new at Epiphany, especially when this line is read .....'they went back in a different way...' I have often wondered how many ways were there and how hued were the ways?

    It seemed so laughable, ridiculous even, to think of 'taking new directions' especially in the autumn of one's life.....where more often than not, sickness, debilitating diseases and old age - takes centre stage and crowds out any such adventurous or rather - alarming thoughts of change!

    Yet, reflecting on your post, I am beginning to realize that -taking new directions can also refer to a change or transformation in one's mind-set or attitude and acceptance of one's lot in life (at least for the present moment) and not only a mere passive acceptance.....but to truly welcome and embrace it and daring to live it ! Even if - by doing so, one has to make many changes/sacrifices along the way. But like you said, this can only happen if one is certain that Jesus is God.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    God bless u, Fr.