While still finding ourselves in the first weeks of a new year I want to suggest a special, indeed urgent, focus .... the recapture of the very special acknowledgement and...
Have I learnt anything of value this Christmas?
Is the PERSON of Jesus Christ more realistic?
Is my faith firmer and stronger?
If on this Sunday I feel a little flat, disillusioned perhaps, or somewhat relieved it is all over for another year, then the basic problem lies within me, with the manner of my celebration – and NOT with Christmas!
We need to be thankful that the Epiphany of the Lord provides all of us, no matter how we might feel or how we answered the questions posed at the outset, with an opportunity for self-evaluation or an opening to take up the slack. There have been times when I have found it profitable to see the Epiphany as a sort of PLAN B – an opportunity for damage control! All of this can be found in the essential facts of the WISE MEN.
It is important to note that I do not know of any translation of Matthews account which refers to kings. Two of the seven versions at my disposal render the visitors as astrologers. The others are content with wise men! Sometime or other I might delve into the origin of three kings? Is it, perhaps, that our presentation of these wise men as kings is found in an effort to avoid the call to WISDOM and limit Christmas to the fanciful?
If we study MATTHEW 2: 1 – 12, this Sundays GOSPEL reading, we should easily discern that our visitors from the East definitely learnt something of value, discovered that Jesus Christ was real, and departed for home (ordinary daily living!) with a faith that was alive and confirmed.
Perhaps the secret of the wise men is that they made the journey (remember last weeks reference to pilgrims?), saw it through to the end, and offered gifts. The gifts enjoyed a symbolic meaning but also represented something far more important – THEMSELVES! THE PILGRIMAGE – the journey they were prepared to make in order to confirm that of which they were already certain – WAS THEIR GIFT. We must come to this Epiphany Sunday to confirm what we know, and this is our real gift. There is an ancient tradition in many parts of the Eastern Church which has EPIPHANY AS PLAN A! In this approach Christmas itself is only a preparation for Epiphany which makes know the full secret of Jesus birth. The story of Bethlehem includes the arrival and departure of the Wise Men – and this happens AFTER the birth.
In our NEW TESTAMENT READING [EPHESIANS 3: 2 – 3a. 5 – 6] Paul speaks of “how the mystery was made known. … not made known to other generations.” There is, indeed, a secret to Christmas – and that secret (mystery) is made known at the Epiphany by the Wise Men. This secret was unknown to other generations. It must not be unknown to us. It should not be unknown to us! This is the very essence of the meaning of the word epiphany – the making known, the unveiling of the secret of Jesus Christ.
We speak about putting Christ back into Christmas. THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT THE CELEBRATION OF EPIPHANY ACHIEVES. This is the day on which, as THIS SUNDAYS PSALM [72 or 71] tells us, “all nations (should) fall prostrate before (him).”Unfortunately, all the Christmas hype clouds the real issue. Sections of the generationshave already real issue. Sections of the generations have already passed on be prepared,Hot Cross Buns will very soon appear in our supermarkets and, in some, will be markedhalal! Have we lost the plot of Christmas? If we have, then this Sunday of Epiphany should bring us back to reality. Too often the three kings appear in Christmas Cribs before they have arrived – and they are kings, not wise men!
Here, Herod has a message for us. He reacted to the wise visitors as a frightened, insecure, and too comfortable a king. He could have responded with wisdom. He chose not to do so. We need to RESPOND to the Epiphany – and respond wisely in order to recapture and confirm for ourselves the central message of Christmas.
This message is given a splendid and challenging form in our OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [ISAIAH 60: 1 – 6]. “Lift up your eyes round about, and see … .” We really should not bring ourselves to this Sundays celebration with a sigh of relief that it is all over. It is not all over. In fact it is only beginning. This is why we are challenged to “arise, shine … .” Yes, there has been darkness covering us at times (and, no doubt, it will happen again) but “the Lord will arise upon you … and (we) will walk in (his) light.”
The Epiphany challenges us not to waste what we have achieved (no matter how little) this Christmas. The Wise Men came, they saw, and they returned home – WISE MEN THEY REMAINED!