Tomorrow Epiphany will be a week old, and part of me feels as though I never made through Advent.
The job I’ve had for the last few years has its busiest time in November and the first half of December, with long, intense, stressful days-stretching-into-evenings. This year, my freelance work was more demanding during that time period, as well. With all the best intentions in the world, Advent, and even Christmas Day, passed in a blur of day job, freelance, financial juggling, frantic last-minute prep for family Christmas.
Suddenly, Advent and the first day of Christmas were gone, so was my adrenaline, and I was almost too exhausted to stir. A week of recuperation, and then, just as I felt I was beginning to revive, time to go back to work, and BANG!: Epiphany. I’m still trying to clear out space for the Baby’s manger while simultaneously journeying to Bethlehem, and here were the Magi at the door. It felt rather like the time dear friends, having left early for fear of summer holiday traffic, turned up at my apartment 45 minutes early, while I was still vacuuming. I opened the door when they rang, said “Go away,” and closed it again. Well, I almost closed it again. Then I opened it wide and told them to come on in, but they’d have to take the place (and me) as they found it, which they were more than happy to do.
So maybe that’s what I need to do with the Wise Men (and God) now, too: just surrender, throw up my hands, and say, “Come on in, but you’ll have to take me as you find me” – which God always does, anyway. Oh wait a minute – that’s part of the point, isn’t it?
But then, Epiphany often finds me all at sixes and sevens, stuck between the joyous mystery of Christmas and the looming slog of Lent, then Easter, which, while the latter is also a joyous mystery and easier than Christmas, it’s just not as much fun. Cadbury eggs and Jelly Bellies, pleasant as they are, just aren’t in the same league as all those Christmas goodies; a basket from the Easter bunny is no match for Santa’s sack; and even the loveliest decorated eggs can’t hold a candle to the scent and sight of a Christmas tree lit and decorated with years of accumulated ornaments, each of which has its own tale to tell.
And if I feel confused, it’s no wonder – Holy Innocents comes on December 28th, but the Magi whose visit sparked the slaughter don’t arrive until January 6th. Who thought that made sense? (Although my Beloved, the high-energy physics engineer, is continually explaining to me that in a quantum universe anything can happen – he tries to explain how, too, but that’s where we run off the rails, or at least I do.)
Then there’s the whole “home by another way” thing. I, who sometimes feel like one of the Perpetually Perplexed, at least directionally, am notorious for getting lost while retracing my steps, whether literally on foot or metaphorically behind the wheel of a car, and I am brought up short: Go home by another way? Without even the star to guide them anymore? Even with the star, I have no idea how they found that manger-in-a-haystack, and without the star? Home by another way? Seriously?
Yet even when there’s not a baby king’s life at stake, sometimes we have no choice: there’s a washout on the road, a job ends unexpectedly, someone dies . . . and we have no choice but to go on/home by another way. And sometimes the home we wind up at isn’t the one we started out at. Maybe it was that way for the Wise Men, too. I, who am neither wise nor in any way magical, will just have to work it out. I will just have to keep stumbling about, stubbing my toes, and stopping to say, “Wait, didn’t I just pass this before?” – like the time a friend and I, having missed a turn, spent the better part of a summer evening, night, and very early morning driving through central New Jersey, passing regularly through Edison, which we always recognized without seeing a sign because someone earlier must’ve run over a skunk: catch that whiff, and we’d say to each other, “Oh no! We’re in Edison again” – but we did finally find our way, wearily, gratefully, home.
And so shall we all.