Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Epiphany: a reflection

May I speak in the name of the Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

The Epiphany, symbolically, serves as a counter-balance to the apparition of the angels to the shepherds at the Nativity of our Lord. The shepherds are visited by heavenly beings; the wise men see a star. The shepherds are poor and lowly; the wise men are wealthy and powerful. The shepherds are Jews; the magi are gentiles. The response of the shepherds is to seek out the Christ; the response of the wise men is to seek out the Christ.

The differing reactions to the seekings of these different groups of men is instructive. The shepherds tell of their experiences to Mary; and the mother of God ponders all these things in her heart. The wise men to Herod and his court; and the earthly king seeks to destroy the heavenly one. We do not know if Herod had heard of the strange events that had recently taken place in Bethlehem. If he did, he ignored them. Why should a king care what poor shepherds have to say? But these visitors from the East are different.

We call them kings often, while scripture only calls them magi, wise; but they can afford a lengthy journey to a distant land from which they expect no material gain. And they feel comfortable stopping to ask directions at the court of a king. They may or may not be kings themselves; but they are certainly great men as the world judges such things. And what they have to say is taken very seriously indeed by Herod. And being a wicked man, Herod can only see the arrival of the Messiah in earthly terms – there is a new king in his kingdom and that can only be seen by him as a threat to his temporal power. So he acts to destroy this new king.

This should remind us that earthly power will sadly all too often see heavenly in terms of a threat to its own – and seek to destroy the heavenly in order to protect the earthly. There have been many other examples of such behaviour down through history to mirror that of Herod's. We need only think of the Roman Empire's attacks on the early Church during the first few centuries; and, even more sadly, that of Christian emperors and kings to control the Church in the centuries that followed. Today the secular, liberal forces that hold so much sway in our Western societies continue to see the Church as a threat and fight against her; for the message of Christ stands in opposition to their vision.

But they will succeed no more than Herod did. For God will not be defeated. Even the apparent successes of secular powers, or any others, will be turned against them; for, as we read in Genesis, what man intends for evil, God uses for good – the good of advancing his kingdom. All the martyrs the Romans created in the early years did not dissuade Christians from being Christians – they served more to persuade others of the truth of their faith and bring them to Christ … just as the star led the wise men to Christ.

And these wise men, these wise kings, had the better reaction to that of Herod's. His was to rage and destroy and kill the innocent in an attempt to do the impossible – to prevent God from ruling his creation. He was indeed a foolish king. But the reaction of the Magi was that of the truly wise; for they came to honour and adore and pay homage, bringing gifts fit for a king. Theirs was the wise reaction, for it is the only one that is fitting for a man when faced with the plans of God. And so, therefore, must we emulate their wisdom, and love and honour the king of heaven who was made man for our sake: this night and always. Amen

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