This article first appeared in the Janaury issue of the Diocesan Post.
There used to be a prayer which asked that we might “find and be found by God.” It is a perfect prayer for the Epiphany: God, on the one hand, reveals Godself to the Gentile Magi; they, on the other hand, set out to look for him. We don’t have much control over whether God finds us or not (unless we go into hiding), but we do have some responsibility for the manner of our own searching.
The story of the Wise Men offers us three models. The first is the way of inertia.This is the path by the magi who never made it into the story. Here the search for God is something we plan to get around to, just as soon as we take care of a few other pressing matters. It is not necessarily an irreligious approach. One can be quite kindly disposed to faith, and church, and even to God, without displaying any of the outward signs of commitment. It is certainly not the most effective manner of seeking out God, but neither need it be hostile.
The second model is shown us by Herod. Herod lets others do the searching for him. He sends the wise men to search diligently for the child, and then, once they have done all the hard work, to come back and report to him. This is perhaps the most pernicious of the three approaches, and the one most likely to cost the church its life. For this is the attitude which leaves prayer, and theological reflection, and really devoted discipleship to the experts. The result is a passive laity, that contents itself not with knowing God, but with believing that somebody else knows God.
The third approach is to do what the magi did, namely to go yourself. The wise men were prepared to give up everything for their search: the comforts of home, their families, their costliest treasures. It can’t have been easy, and there must have been times when they doubted the wisdom of their mission (how must they have felt to hear of the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem?). But they persevered.
And here is the thing: God rewards their diligence. It may be that the procrastinators get there sooner or later. It may be that those who await word from their proxy get there sooner or later. But those who search on their own behalf get there sooner. For God rewarded the diligence of the magi with a vision of the Redeemer Christ while yet a child.
The Very Reverend Ansley Tucker is dean of Columbia and rector at Christ Church Cathedral.