02 January 2011

Feast of the Epiphany

There is something stunning about the story of the Epiphany and we often don't see or hear it, I think, because the story is so familiar to us. It is the challenge which faces us precisely because our God is one who comes to us in littleness, weakness, and obscurity, and meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place. It is truly stunning I think to find three magi (whoever these were and whatever they represented in terms of human power, wealth, and wisdom) recognizing in a newborn baby, not only the presence of a life with cosmic significance but, in fact, the incarnation of God and savior of the world. I have rarely been particularly struck by this image of the Magi meeting the child Jesus and presenting him with gifts, but this year I see it clearly as a snapshot of the entire Gospel story with all its hope, wonder, poignancy, challenge, and demand.

If the identities of the Magi are unclear, the dynamics of the picture are not. Here we have learned men who represent all of the known world and the power, wealth, and knowledge therein who spend their lives in search of (or at least watching for the coming of) something which transcends their own realms and its wisdom and knowledge, coming to kneel and lay symbols of their wealth before a helpless, Jewish baby of common and even questionable birth. They ostensibly identify this child, lying in a feeding trough, as the King of the Jews. Yes, they followed a star to find him, but evenso, their recognition of the nature and identity of this baby is surprising. Especially so is the fact that they come to worship him. The stunning nature of this epiphany is underscored by the story of the massacre of the male babies in Bethlehem by the Jewish ruler, Herod. Despite his being heralded as the messiah, and so too, the Jewish King, there is nothing apparently remarkable about the baby from Herod's perspective, nothing, that is, which allows him to be distinguished from any other male baby of similar age, and so Herod has all such babies indiscriminately killed.

One child, two antithetical attitudes and responses: the first, an openness which leads to recognition and the humbling subordination of worship; the second, an attitude of closedness, self-protectiveness, and fear, which leads not only to a failure of recognition but to arrogant and murderous oppression. And in between these two attitudes and responses, we must also see the far more common ones marking lives which miss this event altogether. In every case, the Christ Event marks the coming of the sovereign, creator, God among us, but in the littleness, weakness, and obscurity of ordinary human being. In this way God meets us each in the unexpected and even unacceptable place (the manger, the cross, human being, self-emptying, weakness, companionship with serious sinners, etc) --- if we only have the eyes of faith which allow us to recognize and worship him!

My thanks to those who have patiently read my blog during my absence over the past couple of weeks. This post is unfinished, and I will complete it later tonight probably, but I wanted to put it up even so. Meanwhile, my best wishes for the rest of this Christmas season! May it be a holy and fruitful time for each of you and your families.