Epiphany, Wise Men, and Watchfulness

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

I believe, that at some level, we all want to see that star. We want to see something that guides us beyond ourselves, beyond the borders of where we live, to that foreign country where we discover the holy one and adore. So we must ask ourselves, “Where are we looking and what are we watching?”

We watch all sorts of things – movies, television, sports, the road, sunsets, children, and each other. Much of our time is spent watching. Rarely, however, does this kind of watching take us anywhere. To the contrary this kind of watching keeps us in the same place. It is focused on an object external to us. If we do get up and move we miss what we are watching. So we become spectators, keeping in our seats, and watching the world around us.

There is, however, another kind of watching – interior watchfulness. Instead of watching the world around us we watch the world within us, a world that in many ways is much bigger and more mysterious than the world around us. We watch and keep guard over what is running through our minds and filling our hearts. It means we have to be awake, alert, and vigilant in order that we might “observe his star at its rising.” The wise men were watching more than just the night sky. They were inwardly watchful, trusting that somehow the celestial lights and their movements mirrored light and movement within themselves. Interior watchfulness takes us on a journey and prepares us with gifts. Interior watchfulness is about purity of heart and the vision of God.

He who does not have attention in himself and does not guard his nous, cannot become pure in heart, and so cannot see God. He who does not have attention in himself cannot be poor in spirit, cannot weep and be contrite, nor be gentle and meek, nor hunger and thirst after righteousness, nor be merciful, nor a peacemaker, nor suffer persecution for righteousness sake.

– St. Symeon the new Theologian

This spiritual attention becomes light – perhaps even a star – and as light, it illumines our path.  We are guided by the light of watchfulness to the great mystery of the Incarnate Light and there we deposit our entire treasury, offering all that we are and all that we have, in thanksgiving for what we have seen, what we have become, and what we are becoming – the Light of God.

And there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11)

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

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