Sunday, January 6, 2013

WITH EPIPHANY, THE PARTY'S NEARLY COMPLETE


A short reflection on the visit of Magi and other unorthodox strangers 

 It's likely that in most of our households the nativity crèche and figurines of the first Christmas story are by now stored away. But in some ancient Christian traditions, January 6th is the day that the figures of three wise men, or Magi, are finally placed at the nativity scene. 

Their arrival, told in Matthew 2:1-12, completes the entourage of people who are drawn to the Child of Bethlehem. In the fullness of Christmastide and in the light of the star, the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete.

The arrival of these mystery people from some distant place signals something new that has forever broadened, opened, and heightened the trajectory of grace. The trajectory of grace now emphatically includes Gentiles—all those not heretofore considered a core part of the story of salvation. The advent of Messiah, spoken of in Old Testament prophecies (like Isaiah 60), along with the Magi being led by a star to Bethlehem signals that something long hoped-for and anticipated is occurring: the promise and way of grace is open and inclusive. From this day forward, "whosoever will" may come.

Epiphany celebrates that God’s light draws unlikely people to grace by circuitous means. Perhaps now more often than not, people may see light and respond to grace from unlikely places and by unorthodox means. Praise God for people who have been reared within orthodoxy, who have for generations been brought near to Biblical faith, who are faithful to the means of grace as they have been taught. But let us also praise God for the fact that grace is just as likely to shine its light in unlikely places, on unlikely people, and bring them by unlikely paths to the babe of Bethlehem. Epiphany celebrates such "appearings," such small and great invasions and in-breakings of grace as part and parcel of the shining city.

Epiphany also celebrates the fact that the celebrated child is, in fact, born King of kings. This is signaled not only in the Old Testament (like Psalm 72), but in the declaration of the Magi and in the gift of gold they present. The prospect that a child has been born "king of the Jews" sends Herod’s regime into a search and seizure mode. The announcement that a new King is on the scene is simultaneously welcoming and threatening. For those living off the spoils of the present reign, who have invested in and count on the continuance of present power arrangements, the news of a new king is unsettling, threatening, undermining. For those who long for justice, for mercy, for inclusion, for place, for peace, for dignity, for a tomorrow, for equitable economy, for fairness, for a second chance, or for just a chance, the news of a new King is Good News, indeed.

I wrote earlier that the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete. Nearly. It is as nearly complete as our own trek and arrival. Have we made the journey in our hearts? Let's try to place ourselves among the unlikely figures who hear the Good News or who have been drawn by some light. We are no less out of place than anyone else. I am no more worthy of being there than the next person. But have we been drawn? If so, then let us do the only thing one can do in the presence of divinity, in the presence of unparalleled royalty—let us be silent, let us be grateful, let us bow in reverence, let us prepare ourselves to be forever changed. Let us be amazed at grace. And let us turn it inside out in a lifetime of bearing grace to all who are drawn to this Light.

A Benediction on Epiphany -

May our journeys ever lead us to the wonder of graciously-given light. May Light ever draw us, guide us, comfort us, challenge us, send us. May grace guide us from morning to evening, day by day, until, at last, either the Kingdom has come or we have come into the Kingdom.

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