Feast of the Epiphany

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

From boyhood I have always loved the Epiphany story, perhaps because the magi manage to bring a touch of the exotic and color to the nearly monochrome stable scene of the first Christmas.  More than that, their very arrival after a presumably long dangerous journey has always underscored the attractive power and authentic divinity of the baby Jesus.

Also, the stark contrast the gift bearers make with the humble homespun couple and their newborn has always struck me with how God acts in ways that challenge our expectations.

Of course, we should not be surprised how often God does this, thoroughly upsetting our ideas about “how things ought to be.” When our notions clash with His, urging us to ask for Him to change His decision, He simply refers to His prior admission that “My ways are not yours” and the added codicil “Learn from Me.”

We could ask “Shouldn’t the wise men have pooled their resources to set up this young couple and their child in the best room at the inn?” Not a proper question albeit a natural one. We have to accept God the Father’s “No” to that.

To that we add the vexing question for the Jews at that time: “Why does Yahweh allow these gentiles to re- ceive a warm welcome from God when we are His chosen people?” A hard pill for them to swallow as they heard this story.

Inevitably we come to think about our personal failure in at least one aspect of our lives. One would think that after all this time, all these centuries since the Bethlehem event, and the clear teaching of the grown up Naza- rene, we would still be guilty of racial prejudice. And what about this awful habit of practically naming ourselves “God’s selected ones” all the time forgetting the petty betrayal of Him involved in our every sin? One could analyze that each sin of ours is like a spike of rough straw chafing an infant’s skin. Or more heinous, like a thorn crowning a condemned God-Man’s sacred head.

We have our work cut out for us, as in our imaginations we rise up from our knees behind the wise men when they stand up. We know they won’t be going back to Herod with any report. Nor will they take the same route home. Nobody who has seen Christ goes away the same. They will have learned without any words from the Holy Infant what it takes to be truly wise. All of this is what makes the Epiphany celebration wonderful.

Our Eastern rite brothers and sisters celebrate this day more than Christmas. It is the day our God revealed Himself as Someone available to everybody and not to just one race.

When I find myself tempted to join the growing number of cynics in the world beyond my front door, who seem more aggressive these days than we are in spreading their convictions, I can recall this scene for comfort. It has adorned many a Christmas card; been added to literary fiction in Henry Van Dyke’s story of “The Other Wise Man,” and immortalized in music as the subject of Menotti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

In my mind I see the weary camels shaking the tiny bells in their livery. I hear rustling silk in the apparel of the extraordinary travelers from the East. I smell the aroma of incense competing with the stink of the stable. And I see the look of delight on that tiny Face which I believe with all my heart to be my God’s countenance.

May that same God love you throughout this New Year and give you His peace.

Reading I: Isaiah 60: 1-6
God radiates light inside the city, so darkness surrenders, so to speak, in Jerusalem. All the nations come together to rebuild the city, including people associated with Abraham from the Arabian peninsula.

Reading II: Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Paul’s great insight into the mystery of Christ is that He wills the Gentile nations to be full participants in the Church. Its very foundation is based on Christ and the prophets and especially the Apostles.

The Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-2
The magi were a group who did things like interpret dreams, or work in astrology and magic. Later tradition made them kings. Above all they represent the Gentile world coming to Christ. Their gifts have meaning, so gold repre- sents kingship; incense divinity and myrrh suffering. Or they can be interpreted Virtue, Prayer, and Suffering.