January 6, 2019 – The Road Less Traveled

Text:  Matthew 2: 1-12

Today we are celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday. Epiphany means manifestation or showing forth. We are invited to encounter God, who continues to be revealed in the creation, including the most unlikely people or places we can think of. The ordinary yet radical way of God’s intervention – born in human likeness through the most vulnerable form – has turned the world upside down. Epiphany begins where all the human efforts fail, and when we realize that the power we thought we had is actually nothing but fragile. The gift of this season is to rearrange our lives in a way that they can illuminate the way of Christ – the self-emptying love. We must learn to let things go that no longer serve us, and to embrace new ways of loving ourselves and loving each other despite everything.

Part of the human nature is to stick to something familiar to us. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they have zero power to be in control. Familiarity makes us feel at home, but unfamiliarity makes us feel out of place. Predictability increases a sense of security, but unpredictability makes us anxious and uneasy. I have observed, in a small group setting where people sit in a circle over a certain period of time, how people like to stick to the chair they first chose. They like to come back to the exact same spot over and over again. Once they occupy the space, it’s theirs to claim. I can tell where your favorite spot is in this place of worship. I can almost picture where you usually sit without even looking. Change is hard, not so much because we want the same thing over and over, but because we all want to feel secure, settled, and that we belong. The truth is that we can never predict what’s going to happen next. Change is the only thing that does not change. Sometimes it takes only a second to see how everything that was peaceful and ordered turns into a most dramatic situation or a chaos.

I met a father who lost his teenage daughter to cancer. He came to our longest night service with his sister and her friend; they all experienced different losses. It had been only two months since his daughter passed away. He and the rest of his family – his wife and their son, now their only living child – were going through the most challenging Christmas time they had ever experienced. I can’t even imagine the pain of loss they had been carrying. Even though the service was designed for people like the father, I felt ill-equipped to even hold space for him. His face looked deeply shocked, confused and sad. After listening to his devastating story, I said “I am sorry” because I truly was, and because that’s one of the few words I could use in response to such a tragedy. And I acknowledged his presence, the courage to show up, and the willingness to partake in the service by lighting a candle, and writing a card and hanging it on the tree in memory of his daughter. He continued to share his reflection, how the death of his child changed everything. He said, his life was all about work, work and more work, but ever since her diagnosis, everything he valued before became meaningless. His world was turned upside down. He cannot go back to where he was and how he was before; he must find another way to continue his life journey.

The journey of the Magi is a fascinating story. We don’t know who they were or where they came from. They just appear in the Nativity story as the ones who traveled from afar to worship the Christ. If our primary focus stays on how they found their way by looking at the star, with all the scientific questions we can have, we would end up being like the chief priests and the scribes in Jerusalem, who knew what was written by the prophet but didn’t take any actions accordingly. What makes the wise ones stand out from the rest of the people in today’s story is that they left everything behind in search of truth. It’s an open question not fixed answers that led them to set out their journey, and to continue on. A change – whether it was ever changing weather, ever changing circumstance or unpredictable road – was their constant companion throughout their journey. What strikes me most is what happened after they paid the child homage. “Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Now it’s not the star but the spirit they must watch out for. The practice of paying attention must continue regardless of their changing situations. What was calling forth was not a particular mission or any grand assignment they could achieve one after another, but the ultimate calling to stay on the pilgrim journey with the holy.

We can begin where the story of the magi ended. In our ever changing circumstances, we must continue the practice of paying attention. Listening to the spirit, who is still speaking to our hearts, we can take another road, the road we haven’t taken before. It can be a daunting task at first, but we can trust in the one who initiated, and has continued to accompany us throughout the journey. That’s how we can stay together on this communal pilgrimage we are called to take. I’d like to share a poem called The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. During the Bible study at Riverwood Square last week, Velma Motheral introduced and recited the poem by heart, leaving the rest of us who were there in awe. I’d like to read this poem for the father who lost his daughter, and for all the people who know the pain of loss.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.