In the Bible (Matthew, chapter 2), the magi, who have been sent by Herod to check out the birth of this new baby in Bethlehem, were warned in a dream to go home by another way instead of reporting back to Herod. I have always loved Epiphany for so many reasons, not the least of which is this reference. It speaks to me on so many levels, namely that we have choices; that what we thought was a great idea turns out to be maybe not the best idea; and lastly (but not at all least) that James Taylor wrote a song about this very act.
1. We have choices: I believe wholeheartedly that God directs me if I ask Him, but He also gave us free will, and I have made some pretty crazy choices in my life all in the name of free will. I am so grateful God doesn't shake His head and say "tsk-tsk" when He sees me exerting my free will in a manner which will very likely not turn out in a stellar manner. When I was a school counselor in Florida (at the best elementary school in the panhandle, by the way), I made up a chant:
We always have a choice, no matter what I do.
I make the choice and I can't blame you.
I had the students memorize it and say it in their best "like a big fat whale in the ocean" (low, low voice), "like a tiny mouse" (in their highest pitched voice), "like a cheerleader" (with a "Yea!" at the end of each phrase), in slow-motion, in speedy motion, and in several other funny ways that helped them imprint those words into their memories. And yet....their own guidance counselor still made ridiculous and poor decisions every now and then, despite being the "adult in the room". The fact of the matter is we all make poor choices sometimes, but the best part is we can learn from them.
2. What we thought was a great idea may not be the best idea: How many times did we start on a journey (proverbial or literal) only to realize it might not be the best idea? I can't imagine what it must have been like to be sent by Herod to check out this new baby in a Bethlehem manger and then to report back to him. As soon as I would have seen all the miracles of the birth of baby Jesus, I, too, would be thinking, "What the what?? I can't go tell Herod the baby Jesus is here, as he was only going to start killing all baby boys under two-years-old!" What would I be willing to risk to go forth and tell the good news versus returning to Herod with the news that, "Yes, indeed, that Jesus baby is in Bethlehem. Go kill him since you're so paranoid"? Sometimes the things I think are good ideas that don't pan out are likely God's way of saying, "Uh, nope. Shelly, that wasn't what was best for you." I have gotten that tap on my shoulder a few times in my life and I am happy to say I have begun listening to those taps a bit more in the last 20 some-odd years in my life. What about YOU?
3. James Taylor wrote a song about this very act : Sorry if it sounds trite, but this song has always touched me. Have you heard it? It's called (no surprise) "Home by Another Way". My favorite part is the line that says "Maybe me and you can be wise guys too and go home another way." He also talks about how any king who would slaughter the innocent will not cut a deal for you. I have always loved this song but no better time than to listen to it again than during Epiphany. I am grateful for songs like this that remind me to steer clear of deals that might be too good to be true. We need to use our faith and spiritual advisors to help us discern what might be a good idea or not.
Just for today, maybe we can think about the magi and their task to be sent by Herod. Would we be willing to listen to angels tapping us in our sleep to warn us to maybe not return to Herod with the news of Jesus's birth? I sure hope so!