January 6 is Epiphany, the day commemorating the visit of the magi, or wise men, to Jesus. Since the magi were non-Jewish visitors from the east, this day celebrates the disclosure of the Son of God to the gentiles. The story of the magi is interesting. They came to Jerusalem searching for a newborn king because they had “observed his star at its rising” (Matthew 2:2). These men were watching and saw something which others had not. In the darkness of the night sky was a special star heralding the birth of a Jewish king. No doubt many others had looked at the sky and seen the star, but failed to understand that it led to the baby Jesus.

The magi went to the palace in Jerusalem – after all, where else would one look for a newborn king? But Jesus wasn’t there. Jesus, born in a stable, hadn’t taken up residency in the palace nursery; he was living in the home of a carpenter in the podunk town of Nazareth, a place with no reputation for housing kings or prophets. One man who would become an apostle initially expressed skepticism by asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Later, some of the Pharisees would point out the religious obscurity of the area by saying, “Search [the scriptures] and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee” (John 7:52). The magi found Jesus in an unlikely place, for the king was not amid the trappings of royalty but rather was in a ordinary house of peasantry, living without special comfort. Although he was not in the expected palace, they were convinced of his royal status. “[T]hey knelt down and paid him homage” and “opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11) – gifts befitting a king.

They had seen a bright star in the darkness of the night, and they found the King of Light in a forgotten town, living among peasants and the poor. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was poor: At her purification in the temple she offered a bird instead of the lamb which wealthier people would have offered (Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:2-8). The magi saw Jesus in this unadorned home, and they acknowledged him as a king. Thus Jesus, the Son of God, was revealed to non-Jews.

Many others have found Jesus in forgotten places and dark corners of their world, encountering him among people who are poor, outcast, ignored, or misunderstood. Old Testament prophets, New Testament disciples, medieval saints, and modern missionaries have seen the brightness of Jesus within the darkness of poverty, disease, and injustice. God is often revealed in places of misery and hurt. Abraham was wandering without a homeland; Moses was a fugitive in the desert; Amos saw that his society treated the poor unjustly. Elizabeth, even before his birth, recognized Jesus in the womb of her cousin – her cousin who was unmarried and pregnant.

Francis of Assisi found Jesus when he embraced a leper, offering compassion and the kindness of human touch to an outcast. Martin of Tours cut his cloak in two to share with a beggar at the city gate. Mother Teresa left her convent to live among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw injustice and spoke out against the mistreatment of people. Each of these situations exhibited a type of poverty or deprivation, material or social, which fostered a poverty of spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said, and indeed they are, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Abraham, Moses, Amos, Elizabeth, Francis, Martin, Teresa, and the Rev. King chose to dwell in dark places and within those places they found Jesus. They responded to a call, and the Lord of Light and Life was revealed in the darkness. Many others have found this to be true; history records a multitude of stories, and a host of others are lost from our historical records.

We tend to think these people are unique or special, and that their calls from Jesus were extraordinary. But the truth is that their lives were extraordinary because they uniquely answered the call which Jesus addresses to all of us. No doubt many magi saw the rising star, but only a small group went toward it. When they didn’t find Jesus in the palace, they continued their journey to a place which was unimportant and filled with people who apparently didn’t matter to the world. In an ignored corner of society they saw Jesus.

Abraham, Moses, Amos, Elizabeth, the magi, Francis, Martin, Teresa, the Rev. King, and a multitude of others didn’t hear a call which was unique; it was their response which was unique; a response made possible because they were poor in spirit. May we all be so poor, may we all answer the call, and may we all find Jesus in the midst of poverty, misunderstanding, homelessness, skepticism, or darkness. That is where he chooses to live, and he waits for us there.

copyright 2014 by the author