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Friday, January 6, 2012 – Matthew 9:35-38 – Epiphany

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again. 

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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