The Wise Men Pay a Visit
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, 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
Dictionary.com defines Epiphany as –
a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi.
I’ve always found it interesting that the Magi – the “Wise Men” – came “from the East”, since most of Christianity’s history is grounded in Roman and “western” culture. That doesn’t really have much to do with this article; it’s just one of the things that make me go hmmm occasionally.
If we look at the story that the author of Matthew tells as if it were simple history, it’s easy to see why Herod, who was quite comfy sitting on the throne, would be frightened. The Magi were the kind of folks whose word carried weight. If they said there was a new kid in town who might upset the applecart, Herod would be very concerned indeed.
Of course, if we take the story as “history”, then we have to accept that astrology is legitimate science, and that God – in “dictating” the Gospel of Matthew – was quite happy to employ magicians to validate Jesus’ divinity.
For me, both ideas are non-starters.
However, there’s another definition of epiphany; one that will be more familiar to most of us –
a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
As in “When the apple hit Newton on the head, he had an epiphany about gravity.”
This is the kind of epiphany that can happen to any of us. We may not discover the mathematical formula to describe the mechanics of gravity, but we can certainly gain insights into our own lives and our interactions with others. For most of us in our everyday lives, those are more important anyway.
The sources for those insights are all around us and endless. All we have to do is be open to them.
For Newton, it was a simple falling apple in his mother’s orchard. For us, it might be the smile of a child, a casual remark by a friend, or a sunset.
Newton’s epiphany inspired him to advance scientific understanding. It expanded our knowledge of how the mechanics of the universe works.
Our epiphanies can inspire us to change how we see the world and expand and deepen our relationships with each other and Creation.
That will mean that we have to change the way we live. It’s usually in some small way; we may make a commitment to volunteer more, or to be less critical of a neighbour. But sometimes our epiphanies can lead us to examine our lives more deeply, and help us to realize that we need to make major changes to our perspective.
As the author of Matthew writes that it was for Herod and “all of Jerusalem”, that can be a frightening experience.
In the story, Herod wasn’t afraid because Jesus was “saviour of the world.” He was afraid because the Magi said he would be “king of the Jews.” Herod was afraid for his crown, not his soul.
But the Christian Epiphany doesn’t have anything to do with the arrival of a new warrior king who would throw off the yoke of Romans.
Epiphany marks the realization that the radically inclusive Message of the Christ is universal; that it, like “eastern” faith traditions, reminds us that we are all one; and that it is up to each of us to seek out our own epiphanies and to act on them without fear.
And if we’re lucky, it won’t take an apple hitting us on the head to get the message across.
Other perspectives you might be interested in
- Returning Home by “Another Way” (Not Herod’s or the Priests’) (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)
- Sermon: Epiphany Meets The Covenant Service (Dave Faulkner, bigcircumstance.com)