Welcome the Late-Comers

Welcome the Late-Comers

epiph·a·ny, noun \i-ˈpi-fə-\
: a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ

: a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the “12th Day of Christmas” celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord, which is why the boys dive for the cross in Tarpon Springs. In Western Christianity, Epiphany is the day we welcome those late-comers to the nativity, those enigmatic, mysterious visitors from the East who arrived after a long search for the Christ Child.

I love Evelyn Waugh’s description of them:

“You are my special patrons, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents…For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Belief in Christ evidently came easily to the shepherds. They saw the angels, heard the good news, “went with haste” to find the Christ Child and returned praising God and telling everyone they could find about what they had seen.

If only belief in Christ were that simple for all of us.

Not so for these strangers from the East. Most scholars agree that they showed up about three years later, perhaps in Nazareth rather than in Bethlehem. They asked a lot of questions along the way. But in their own time and their own way, they came to “the moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” They offered themselves through the offering of their gifts to Jesus. And Matthew records “they were overwhelmed with joy” and “went home by a different way.” (Matthew 2:10-12)

One of my greatest joys in ministry was the opportunity to create space for the “late comers,” the questioners, the folks for whom belief did not come easily, but who, like the Magi, found their way into a relationship with Christ that made sense in their heads and a difference in their hearts.  This Epiphany I give thanks for a God whose grace has room for the late-comers!

Reuben Job:  A Guide to Prayer 

Reuben Job died this weekend.  He was a pastor, a teacher, the World Editor of “The Upper Room” and a bishop in the United Methodist Church.  But beyond all of that, he was — and will continue to be — a guide along the way that leads to a deeper spiritual life.  I am among the multitudes of stumbling disciples for whom his “Guides to Prayer” became the essential road map for a daily rhythm of reflection on scripture and personal prayer.

I returned this year to “A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People.”  The opening prayer for this week includes this petition:  “In all the surprise and changes of life, may I fix my heart upon you, so that your eternal purposes may be fixed in me.”

In previous uses of this guide, I had underscored Thomas Merton’s words about “holy leisure–otium sanctum.”

“We cannot give ourselves to spiritual things if we are swept off our feet by a multitude of external activities…Sanctity is not measured by the amount of work we accomplish. Perfection is found in  the purity of our love for God, and this pure love is a delicate plant that grows best were there is plenty of time for it to mature.”

 Reuben showed us what it looks like for that kind of love to grow in the way he lived and the way he died.  May we practice the “holy leisure” in which that kind of love can grow.  Thanks be to God for his guidance along the way.

Grace and peace,

Jim

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5 thoughts on “Welcome the Late-Comers

  1. Hi Jim, A while ago I mentioned that I was studying the “historical Jesus” studies generated by Dominic Crossan and others. You mentioned an author and a book that you preferred regarding this progressive Christian theology (I think is what all this new thinking is is called…). Can you please give me that name again? Thanks. I am excited once more about Christianity and my commitment to it, so this is a good thing even though it sounds like heresy to some. But I like to get lots of different viewpoints and be well-rounded and then decide. So any thoughts and information on this will be appreciated. Peace and love and health, Barbara

  2. Thanks for your continuing ministry through this writing and sharing. The best month of my entire ministry, was a month I spent in silence with Reuben’s A Guide to Retreat For All God’s Servants. I hope 2015 will be a really good year for you all. Larry

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Jim, thanks so much for sharing Merton’s words about “holy leisure.” “Sanctity is not measured by the amount of work we accomplish. Perfection is found in the purity of our love for God…” They remind me of Henri Nouwen’s writings. It is difficult, however, to move from an intellectual agreement with the truth of those statements to embracing them as a way of life. But then, that is the gift we are offered through the Gospel, isn’t it?

  4. Bless you, Jim. Your enthusiasm for life and the things of the Spirit are refreshing. So good.

    Shalom,

    Don

    On Mon, Jan 5, 2015 at 8:50 AM, Jim Harnish wrote:

    > jimharnish posted: “Welcome the Late-Comers > epiph·a·ny, noun \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\ : a Christian festival held on January 6 in > honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ : a > moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very > clear w”

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