Epiphanies

CnCEpiphany

Today’s readings:
Psalms 72; 148, Isaiah 52:7-10, Revelation 21:22-27, Matthew 12:14-21
Epiphany readings:
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12


Happy Epiphany! Today is the last day of the Christmas season. Our traditional reading is about the Magi: wise men who – led by a prophecy and a star – traveled from far lands to honor the infant Christ with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Some people wait until today to add the Magi to complete their nativity scenes and continue to display it until February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

If you haven’t yet listened to “We Three Kings” this season, today’s your day!

But the story of the Magi has a darker side. On their way to Bethlehem, the Magi visited King Herod to ask where the newborn King of the Jews might be found. Herod, jealous and fearful, met with the chief priests and scribes to learn all he could about the prophesied messiah, and tried to pump the Magi for information. He told them “when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” In truth, he was less interested in homage than homicide. The Magi, warned in a dream not to return to Herod, went home by another route.

In our daily readings, the same crowd– still fearful of Jesus and all he represents – is conspiring to destroy the adult Jesus. For a time he goes underground, but continues his ministry of healing and justice. Jesus always is who he says he is; his enemies (and some of them claim to serve him) are not.

What exactly does “epiphany” mean? It is a moment of insight or revelation. One of the most important epiphanies in this story is when the Magi realize Herod’s intent differs from his words. We would be wise to follow their example. Often those who govern – religiously or civilly – publicly promote one agenda but follow another. From slapping misleading titles on legislation, to unnecessarily “protecting” a powerful group in order to suppress another more vulnerable one, to rewriting history that judges them unfavorably, people tell us what they think we want to hear in order to lull us into going along with something else. In his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell called it doublethink, and it empowered tyranny.

Some epiphanies are spontaneous. Others are the product of critical thinking. As followers of Christ, let’s strive to be like the Magi and stay ready for both.

Comfort: Jesus is always who he claims to be.

Challenge: Maintain a healthy skepticism of those in power, especially those who tell you what you want to hear.

Prayer: God of truth and light, I will seek to follow you always! Amen.

Discussion: What’s the last epiphany you had?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Why Three Kings?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/browser):
Psalms 72; 147:1-11, Isaiah 49:1-7, Revelation 21:22-27, Matthew 12:14-21
Epiphany readings: 
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12


Today we celebrate Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. Traditionally the gentiles are represented by the Magi. The gospel of Matthew tells us wise men followed a star from the east, paid tribute to the infant Christ, and returned home by a different route because a dream warned them King Herod was plotting against the newly-born messiah. Most nativity scenes depict them as three kings, though there is no scriptural basis for their rank or count other than the number of gifts.

Maybe they’re better off dropping the king bit and sticking to being just wise. Psalm 72 describes what it means for God’s presence to be felt throughout the gentile world, and kings don’t fare well. They bow before the presence, offer tribute, and oppressive ones are crushed. On the other hand the poor, needy, and oppressed are mentioned favorably ten times in this twenty-verse psalm. God judges them with justice; he defends, delivers, redeems, helps, pities, and saves them. Jesus’s message of the first being last and the last being first doesn’t originate with him; it is a natural evolution of the messages of the psalmists and the prophets. Jesus is the one who brought it home.

A mainstay of modern Roman Catholic social teaching is a preferential option for the poor. In other words, Christians are obligated to serve those who are impoverished financially and/or spiritually. Theologians of other denominations share similar teachings. Depending on our worldview, how we choose to meet that obligation can take many forms. Christ has trusted us with a duty, and also trusts us to determine the best means to execute that duty. Sometimes that means we can disagree about how we should serve. What it never means is starting from an attitude where the poor – of pocket or spirit – are a nuisance, morally lacking, or lesser than anyone else. Whatsoever we do for the least among us, we do also for Christ. We are to be kings bowing to babes.

The Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh represented royalty, holiness, and death. Jesus re-gifted them to us as humility, grace, and life regardless of our worthiness. Let’s pay it forward.

Comfort: God’s love is for all, not just the privileged or perfect.

Challenge: What programs in your local community help the poor? How can you help them?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for all I have. I will not forget that you ask me to share it with those who have less. Amen.

Discussion: We are often distrustful or uncomfortable with people who have significantly more or less material wealth than we do. Why do you think that is?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!