I was reading about the concept of an “epiphany” (lower case “e,” not the liturgical celebration), and was struck by this comment:

“Although epiphanies are only a rare occurrence, they happen following the process of significant labor. Famous individuals like Archimedes and Isaac Newton might have had epiphanies; they were most certainly the result of a long and intensive period of study, not a sudden, out of the blue, flash of inspiration.”

Looking at today’s Gospel reading, we find the familiar story of the Magi, or the three wise men from the East, who followed a star to visit and worship the newborn king of the Jews. It strikes me that the Magi receive their epiphany much like what is described above. It is no accident that they are there; they have studied the heavens for decades, travelled for weeks or months, putting in the “intensive period of study” which led them to a brilliant moment of truth.

This is not good news for those of us who are waiting around for some kind of magical appearance of God in our lives to enlighten us and give us direction or inspiration. That would be like hoping to find a cure for cancer and spending all your time watching sports on television. The sudden, out-of-the-blue flash of inspiration will not arrive. It is when we are truly wrestling with something, struggling to move forward in our lives, to trust God and to experience God’s presence, that epiphanies come.

It is when we are truly wrestling with something, struggling to move forward in our lives, to trust God and to experience God’s presence, that epiphanies come.

It has always struck me as curious that the first people to truly recognize Christ’s identity were non-Jewish religious leaders. They crossed borders and risked their lives to follow what they felt God was telling them. How could it be that they were so knowledgeable about God’s work? And how did the religious leaders of Israel, the scribes and elders who had been studying and longing for the arrival of the Messiah, miss the signs while the Magi had it figured out?

Perhaps the search of the Magi was more genuine and more honest. Perhaps they just tried harder. Perhaps the leaders of Israel could not let go of their own expectations about how the Messiah would come.

Thomas Edison said that genius is “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” His point, of course, was that you are far more likely to come up with an ingenious idea, thought or product if you work hard at something. And while I wouldn’t equate the life of faith with product development, today’s Gospel suggests that there is an element of truth there for us. Yes, God breaks into our lives unexpectedly, but it is a lot easier if we invite him in.

As we enter a new calendar year, today’s celebration reminds us to focus on what matters most in our lives — the revelation of God in Christ. Those who seek him with determination and courage are rewarded vastly for their efforts.

Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]