The Lessons:

Isaiah 60:1-6

Matthew 2:1-12

We stepped off the boat and they handed each of us our 70 pound backpacks. One of the trainers yelled to our group, “Alright folks, this is where your journey begins. We start at sea level and for today we’ll be tackling what most of us have lovingly named, ‘The Vertical Forest.’’ Someone from the boat yelled at me and thrust a note into my hand. “This is my gift to you for your journey,” she said.

I read the paper, “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.—John Steinbeck”

Oh shit. What kind of gift was this?

It was the first day of my 10-day mountaineering training to become a mountain guide.

I’ve always loved the mountains and hiking. I grew up in Colorado and my parents taught me to love the outdoors. What my parents didn’t gift me with was balance, surefootedness, or any experience backpacking.

Most of my mentors and people I’ve looked up to love to backpack. Many were part of a ministry that took people backpacking in remote Canada. The ministry claimed it could make mountaineers into pastors and pastors into mountaineers. I wanted to be a mountaineer. I would be soo cooolll—FINALLY.

The ministry took me on to make me a mountaineer—apparently I was already quite pastoral.

I looked into the dark and lush forest awaiting me.   What the heck had I gotten myself into? What had God called me to?


A particular star rises. Wise Ones from the East noticed it, paid attention to its rising, knew what it meant. These Magi– were magicians, they dealt in the esoteric, in the spirituality of signs, in sorcery, in astrology. These Magi were significant players. They were wealthy enough, or had other indicators of status, to be taken seriously by Herod and, according to the story, “all Jerusalem with him”.

But “royalty” they were not, and we have no idea how many of them there were. Matthew is the only Gospel that says anything at all about Magi.

I want to point something out here—in case you didn’t catch it—so called magicians were the ones looking for Jesus. Not the scholars or religious leaders. But the “Magicians” from some place far away. They came from the edges. They weren’t who you’d expect to be searching for Jesus.

Matthew does not ascribe number, gender or royal status to the Wise Ones from the East. The Greek masculine plural magoi (for Magi) can be used inclusively for men and women. And according to renowned authority on the Gospel of Matthew, Dominican Fr. Benedict Thomas Vivano, believes it entirely possible that women would have been among the Magi portrayed in the Matthean birth narrative.

So, the Magi see the star, they read the signs, they used all their arts, but they could not find the Jesus without asking for directions – from the faith community or without the writings of prophets.

And with directions, the Wise Ones set out to find the child who has been born king.


The other First Year Guides and I walked into the forest and that first day was essentially climbing up tree roots in a wet, slippery forest. Within the first hour I had fallen and cut my knee pretty badly. I remember the second year guides giving each other looks like, “How did she get here?”

We kept climbing and I kept struggling. At one point, nearly at the top of a pitch, I struggled to pull myself up, took a step, took another step and caught my foot on a root and fell flat on my face. Unfortunately, there was another root sticking out and I hit my eye on it. My first and only black eye.

By this point, I heard one of the second year guides whispering to one of the lead Guides, “This is just the easy stuff and it’s only going to get more difficult with snow, glacier crossings and using our ice axes. She’s not going to make it.”

I started to cry to myself as we climbed on. This was the hardest thing I had ever physically done (and I had run a half marathon). What if I couldn’t do it? I had made a huge mistake.

I didn’t belong here. This was too difficult. I was an imposter. Why did I choose this?


The Wise Ones followed the star on quite the journey. Then star stopped to mark the end of their searching. The Wise Ones were filled with Joy. They went to the place where Jesus was and literally fell on their knees and worshipped Jesus. They bowed and put their foreheads to the ground and kissed the floor. They abandoned themselves to this worship this tiny, baby, Jesus. This was their epiphany. They saw that divinity had taken on flesh. God chose the most lowly and vulnerable of positions to show up and affirm that our humanness and all that composes our humanness (our fleshy bodies, our perpetual state of becoming, our messy lives, our mistakes, our triumphs) is divine.

Worship of a baby is weird. But worshipping a baby is also subversive, world changing, and uproots the status quo. These are trademarks of God’s work in the world. It’s the last person you’d expect, it’s the thing you didn’t see coming, the one you underestimated, the one you ‘othered’ that God chooses.


For the next 10 days on our training trip, we rambled around the mountains. Much of it was in whiteout snow storms where I could barely see 2 feet in front of me. We rock climbed, we traversed glaciers, we jumped in glaciers, we threw ourselves down snowy slopes to see if we could stop ourselves from falling. I had to rely on people who I knew didn’t believe in me and they had to rely on me. We all had to rely on each other to make it on our journey. Plus, we learned that everyone’s poop looks the same after you eat the same thing for 3 days.

I cried a lot (but luckily no one could hear me because the wind was so loud), I still kept falling, and I sang DC Talk to myself for comfort and oddly enough, the other guides joined me.

Finally we summited.

The day we summited the clouds cleared and we could see for miles. We made it! I was amazed that I made it through all of my physical discomfort, my own self-doubt, and the doubt of others.

On that summit, I loved everyone. I didn’t care if they didn’t believe in me or they had doubted me. Who cares! We’re all human. I have never felt as embodied as I did that day. I stood on that peak with a black eye and a bruised body and I realized I was capable of doing more than I ever gave myself credit for. I could persevere through just about anything. I could even love people who thought I didn’t belong there. I didn’t want to leave that summit. I even told one of the Lead Guides that I didn’t want to leave because my heart felt so open.

Everything felt so clear to me standing on that mountain. I could see where we had come from and where we were going. It wouldn’t be clear when we went back to tree-line. Everything would get obscured there. I probably wouldn’t love my haters anymore. It would be more difficult to love them in the dark forest.

And the Lead Guide pulled out his journal and read me the following quotation from Robert M. Pirsig:

It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.


We find ourselves at one of the summits in the Liturgical Calendar- Epiphany. God is revealed to us through Christ. We stand on the Summit and see clearly the moment divinity became fully human (in a tiny baby) and experience the joy and rapture along side the Wise Ones. We worship and we listen to what God has to say to us in this season of revelation.

What is God whispering to you?

But we don’t get to stand here for long.

It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.

That’s the tricky part of mountain top experiences. You get a moment of clarity. For a moment things make sense. And the view is so good but you can’t live on the mountain top.

It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.

The Magi’s journey reminds us that the mission of Jesus takes us in unexpected directions, crossing boundaries that may not be comfortable, and that we just might find ourselves kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder with folks that we at first might not accept, but which Jesus is happy to welcome. It is a reminder, too, that we have a lot to learn from the “other” – it was Magi, not the scripture scholars or the religious leaders, that were looking for Jesus. And it was Magi, not the scholars, who found him. There’s no room for pride at the feet of Jesus.


We are figuratively beginning our descent down the mountain on our own journey toward Lent. At the same time, we are literally embarking on an uncertain journey in our own nation. It will be more important than ever to remember who God is and who we are. We have a long journey before us with a lot of hard work to do—doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. The best parts of ourselves will be revealed as will some of our worst parts. God will be with us. Divinity resides within us.

But before we can begin our journey down the mountain, we must take a look around this summit. Pay attention to the things you can see clearly. Remember what you know. Everything makes more sense when you can see the big picture, it gets more difficult when you’re slipping and sliding in the vertical forest of life.

In The Silver Chair (one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia), Aslan charges Jill to remember the crucial signs that will guide her on her seemingly impossible quest to rescue Prince Rilian. If she can just cling to Aslan’s words and follow the signs he gave her, she will most certainly find her way.

“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”


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