Today the Christian world celebrates the Epiphany; the commemoration of the moment when the three kings, or wise men, arrived at the birthplace of Jesus. They had journeyed far and long, following a star in the sky. Why did they embark upon this journey? They noticed something different and new in the sky; sensing its importance, they chose to follow it. They interpreted this sign in the sky to be significant and a sign of the arrival of a powerful person, a king. I have no doubt that although wearied by the journey, they were excited by the anticipation of their findings.
When they arrived at their destination they found the powerful person whom they were seeking, in a barn! Talk about blown expectations. Their journey of significance; their journey of anticipation at finding a powerful king on his throne, led them instead to a barn and a baby lying in a manger. A manger, its prior and intended use, from which the lowly and dirty animals ate. They found a defenseless baby laying in an animals’ food bowl. Talk about a let down.
Along our life’s journey, when our anticipated expectations don’t live up to reality, how do we react? What did these wise men do? According to the story, they not only stayed, but they knelt in homage to the baby in the food trough.
These wise men were able to recognize that although their expectations of finding a powerful man on a throne was a baby lying in a feeding trough, nonetheless they were able to recognize that their journey still had meaning. They were flexible with their expectations, understanding, through wisdom, that just because what they encountered did not match their expectation, it didn’t mean that the reason for the journey itself was flawed or wrong. The journey was true; the expectation is what needed to change. These wise men, after paying homage to the special baby, returned to their homeland by a different route; a new path. In a truly symbolic way, these wise men were so changed by their experience, that their “old path” no longer would lead them home. They now took a new way, and new approach, a new path, to find their way to their home.
How often do we feel disappointment at our journey’s end and thus respond by turning around and going home? What if the wise men did the same? They were able to “see” beyond their own expectations and were thus open to a new way of perceiving the world around them. The wise men didn’t act upon what they previously thought, nor upon their previous expectations. Rather, they saw more deeply the true reality before them. It is in that shift in perceiving and thinking which allowed them to see what was really present, and to be changed by the experience, not changed by their expectations.
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Marvin New Year’s comic strip 2014
Happy New Year 2016!! As I reflect on writing this post I realize that this time last week I gathered with family and friends to enjoy Christmas Day, while just last night I joined with family and friends watching the Times Square ball descend into a new year. A lot seems to happen in a short time during the holiday season. But what does it all mean? As I relax with a good cup of coffee on this first morning of the new year, I reread this Marvin comic I came upon a couple of years ago as I feel it’s still perfect for today! When you think about it, what makes this morning any different from yesterday’s morning? It feels the same; I’m doing the same things, the people around me are the same, the scenery is the same, and yes, the smell is the same. But I am told it is the start of a new year! New beginnings from old. New opportunities and adventures! Ahhhh….. the promise of new. But it doesn’t feel new. Does it feel or smell new to you? What is different today from yesterday? So, if this new year still “smells” like last year should I feel cheated out of that new car smell experience?
One of the reasons for this comic’s relevance is that many of us place too high of expectations on ourselves, especially this time of the year. I am not saying that this is not a fine time for resolutions. Of course it is! But are your resolutions and expectations reasonable? Challenging oneself can be a growth opportunity since through challenges, struggles, ups and downs, your goal may be achieved! Go for it! But what if you found yourself wanting more once you realized the new year didn’t smell any different from the old? What if you realize nothing has changed? For too many of us this is what happens along our journey. We expected a particular day to be one way, and when it wasn’t we were disappointed. But was your expectation realistic?
In a few days (January 6) I will be recalling the moment when the wise men arrived at the end of their journey searching for the newborn king, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As with the wise men, when we journey toward our God, toward inner-peace, we can’t help but be changed. When we truly seek to find greatness, we can’t help but to be changed by the greatness we sought. How often do we feel disappointment at our journey’s end and respond by turning around and going home? What if the wise men did the same? They went beyond their own expectations and were open to a new way of looking at things. They didn’t act upon what they thought, rather, they looked more deeply at the situation and recognized that their expectations were not correct. Yes, it was a mighty king they found, but not how they imaged Him. Yet that didn’t matter. They learned to look at situations differently, not just from their own perspective It is that shift in perceiving and thinking which allowed them to understand the present moment, and to be changed by the experience.
In this new year, when our experiences don’t smell as they “should” (according to how I feel they should smell), try to take a moment and look at your situation, the new year, and find the deeper reality. Look beyond yourself to other possibilities. Challenge yourself to learn something new about this world around us. And in so doing, I have no doubt that your life’s journey will begin to take a new path.
May you all have a happy and blessed New year, filled with many new paths, adventures, and even new smells.
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