“Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him…” (Matthew 2:1-3)
Today is Epiphany, when we recall the journey of the Magi to see the Christ Child in Bethlehem, led by that rising star to witness history in the making. We imagine them arriving with great pomp and circumstance, kneeling with reverence before a simple manger that cradled an unexpected kind of king, offering gifts of great price and honor.
Yet in reality the picture was far more complicated than this. From the beginning, the Magi’s search for the Christ Child was fraught with complicated politics, sinister manipulations, and dangerous possibilities. News of the child born in Bethlehem as prophets had foretold was striking fear in the heart of King Herod, who was desperate to hold on to power at any cost. Others in Jerusalem were apparently also shaken by the news, perhaps imagining their own status, their own understandings of the world, might now be at risk too.
So Herod sent the Magi out to find this troublesome arrival who threatened his power and purpose, intending to make these wise sages unwilling accomplices in his evil schemes. Yet the scriptures tell us that when they found the baby lying in a manger they were filled with joy. And rather than inform Herod of what they’d seen and learned, they went home another way, subverting his intentions.
As we celebrate epiphany today, we are well acquainted with the pains and ugliness of the world around us. Our own politicians scheme and play dangerous political games, bent on keeping power and influence. Violence erupts on our streets. Hunger and economic insecurity grows exponentially. The numbers of those who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone surpassed 350,000 in recent days. And we are frightened, and all the world with us, about so much we can neither understand nor control.
Our world is not so different than the one into which Jesus was born. And yet nothing about our world now or then stops God from being gloriously revealed. God still shows up where we least expect, right smack in the middle of our messiness. Signs of God’s amazing love and promise still emerge in our lives. God’s hope still burns brightly before us. And we are still invited, like the Magi, to travel a long and winding journey of faith, eyes wide open to the dangers around us, hearts focused on what God is nonetheless doing among us.
I see so many brilliant signs of God-with-us now, even in the midst of all that challenges and exhausts us. I see God’s love shining in the ways we have worked to protect ourselves and our neighbors from this horrific virus while still managing to extend generous care in the face of so much need. I see God’s hope emerging in all the creativity and stubborn resilience our congregations and clergy are exhibiting. I see God’s fierce justice in the passionate commitment of so many to tackle racial injustice, to feed the hungry, and care for God’s precious Creation. And I see God’s unrelenting faithfulness to us reflected in our own inspiring faithfulness during these daunting times.
Every time we resist the anger, hopelessness, fear, and confusion that surrounds us with our own surprising graces & outpourings of love, we reveal the goodness and bounty of God anew. Epiphanies daily surround us.
Keep your eyes open for signs of God’s grace and love, still shining brightly in our world. And may those gifts be seen daily in us, reflections of our faithfulness.
Reverend Shari Prestemon