Epiphany is the end of the nativity story. It’s how everything abruptly changes. In chapter one of Matthew’s Gospel, we find both the genealogy of Jesus, and the quiet, mystical birth of the infant. And then, right away in chapter two, we find a threatened king and his plan to destroy the baby. There is no building up to the climax, no preparing for something bad to happen… just “they named him Jesus,” and “when King Herod heard this, he was frightened… then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.” Epiphany is the story of the wise men, following the star and locating the Christ Child. But the story doesn’t end there. The wise men have one of the light bulb moments and they realize the destruction Herod intends for Jesus. So, they return home a different way and refuse to give Herod what he demands. And what I most love about this part of the story is that it speaks directly to us as we begin 2017.
The writers of scripture weren’t writing facts and history, they were writing theology. Theology is an explanation of God and how God relates with the world. Time and time again we find that the story of Jesus - written thousands of years before our time - fits smack dab right in the center of our life experience. Herod was scared when word got out that this new Messiah would rule the world, much more, the hearts of individuals. Herod wanted to be the ruler, he wanted control over the people and he wanted his ideas to dominate society. He also wanted to fill his own treasury. How perfect that Herod would be part of the nativity of Jesus. I mean, imagine, a Christ that understands our world and experiences the same struggles as we face. That’s the theology of the scriptures… life isn’t always pretty and Christ is born into that life, showing us how we might live in the midst of all this chaos while being in right relationship with God.
There’s no doubt that as we enter 2017, we know fear and greed. We also know the evil that transpires from both. It’s no secret that the catastrophe in Syria and many other corners of the globe is a direct result of power-hungry Herod’s. Herod wanted to the kill the baby Jesus to secure his control of the throne. All around the world people with power put the lives of innocent civilians at great risk to secure their pursuit of oil and other fine riches. I get it, we need oil, and we also need wealth. However, scriptures remind us that there are things that all people need, and we need to find a way to put a right relationship with God first. It couldn’t have been easy for the wise men to defy Herod and go home another way, they risked the wrath of Herod, which wouldn’t have been appealing. I imagine they decided the ministry of Christ was most important, so they chose the path that most directly led to him. They refused to play into the hand of a Herod that was more focused on his own gain over the needs and rights of others. I’m fairly certain that’s the entire intention of Jesus anyway, you know, putting others before himself.
As we head into a new year, I personally hold hopes of significant satisfaction (bringing my son home from an orphanage in India). But I need to be intentional about looking for epiphanies… those places where God would rather I look beyond my own comfort and pleasure. I may be a dreamer, but I believe that if a whole bunch of us made room in the New Year for an epiphany to happen, our collective experiences of the world would look a lot less frightening. Happy 2017 dear readers.