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Holy Everything: Just like magi, we're welcome in God's celebration

Today is Epiphany and the official conclusion to the 12 days of Christmas. Epiphany is the celebration of the magi's visit to baby Jesus.

Some call them wise men. Others call them magi. And still other biblical translations refer to them as "men who studied stars," a "band of scholars," and astrologers.

Take your pick. The original Greek form of the word is magos, and it refers to "teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, and sorcerers."

These important fellows are only mentioned in one of the four Gospels: Matthew. Matt is the single biblical writer who opted to share the story of the wise men and their fascinating travels and gift-bearing.

The details are few. What we know is this: At some point after Jesus' birth, a group of magi show up in Jerusalem and ask Herod for the scoop. We don't know how many magi visit (though we do know they brought three gifts). And we don't know their exact geographic origin (somewhere in the east). So they arrive in Jerusalem and ask, "Fancy King Herod, where is the new, super special infant King? We saw a very amazing star rise in the sky and we want to worship the li'l guy!"

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Herod was not impressed. Being the paranoid, insecure leader that he was, Herod was troubled by the news of a baby king because he imagined his power being taken away. However, he pretended to be excited so he could trick the magi into giving him the 4-1-1 on Jesus' location. Herod requested that the magi search "diligently" for the baby and then send word so that he could go see him, too.

Matthew tells us that the wise men followed the star and found Jesus and Mary in a house, and then they offered up their special gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then the wise men had a dream that sending word to Herod would be a bad idea, so they traveled back to their unknown homeland on another route. And that's all we know about the magi.

Epiphany refers to two things: the holiday and the emotion. An emotional epiphany is a moment of sudden revelation. Both the holiday and the feeling are worth exploring today, because at the heart of the holiday IS the feeling. The sudden revelation we rejoice in today is this: Jesus came to dwell among us, and everyone is welcome at the celebration!

Epiphany centers on a bunch of incredible realities. Here are a few.

Jesus has never played favorites. Even from his birth. The fact that the magi are some of the first people to spend time with Jesus is a big deal. (The same is true about the shepherds who visit Jesus as described in the Gospel of Luke.) The magi weren't from Jesus' same religious group, yet they are the very folks most excited to see him. This is a reminder that Jesus' existence was and is good news for everyone, not just a select group of people. God can speak to and through everyone.

Look up! The stars are special. It was a star that led the wise men to Jesus. The wise men were people who studied the sky. How amazing that God spoke to them in a language they already understood: the stars. God didn't force the wise men convert or learn a new language or worship in a special building. God connected with the magi through the cosmic landscape they studied every day. The sacred star is mentioned beautifully in the chorus of the familiar hymn "We Three Kings," by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

O star of wonder, star of night,

Star with royal beauty bright,

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Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.

Jesus' existence causes joy to burst forth. I adore the magi's response to finding Jesus. Before they even enter Mary's and Joseph's abode, Matthew tells us that the magi "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." This is a reminder that great joy is a good thing, and when we feel it, we have the freedom to express it with boldness.

May the remainder of your Epiphany be full of exceeding joy as we are led together by God's perfect light.

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