Epiphany

I’d planned to see my doctor today but then I remembered that for him, a devout Coptic Christian, today is Christmas. Why, in the Orthodox tradition, do they prefer to celebrate the “showing” of the child to the gentiles rather than the birth of Jesus into the world? Well, I can’t answer that but it could be that birth happens to us all but the manifestation of God to the world when the “time” had come is what really needs to be remembered.

Matthew gives us the story of the journey of the Magi and he was the most Jewish of the gospel writers. He begins by rooting Jesus firmly in his Jewish origins in chapter 1 and then blows the mind of his Jewish Christian readers by telling the story of these visitors from the east in chapter 2. They come to Jerusalem for help to understand the sign (the star) they had seen and they are helped, with the aid of the Hebrew scriptures, to discover that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But the “chief priests and the scribes” leave it at that. They don’t go to Bethlehem. Only the gentiles do.

And not only that! The Jewish king uses the scriptures as “intelligence” material to counter a challenge to his rule. It is not a pretty story and it is not a new one. People constantly prefer their own immediate interests to the wider picture. Scientists tell us the melting of Antarctica would be catastrophic for human life on earth but who is listening?

The good news is, of course, that the three wise men push on. This time the star and the scriptures converge on a simple shelter in Bethlehem where they find the child “with his mother Mary.” They are “filled with delight” and offer valuable gifts.

Their journey and their gifts then become the signs. T. S. Eliot describes their journey:

… the camel men cursing and grumbling / and running away, and wanting their liquor and women / and the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters. / And the cities hostile, and the towns unfriendly / and the villages dirty and charging high prices: / a hard time we had of it.

Do we experience something like that? But in the end we get there and offer our gifts. What are they? What have I to give? We all have something: a word, a smile, an act of compassion and solidarity with people suffering in a hostile world. The key thing is to reach beyond our little world of self-interest that traps us every bit as much as it did the scribes of Jerusalem.

7 January 2018                                    Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6                                       Ephesians 2:3 …6                               Matthew 2:1-12

 

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