4 January 2015 – The Epiphany of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8. 10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12 (Find them here)
The prophet knew that God would come. In a period when the People of God were small and insignificant, subject to the power of a foreign empire, he described how their battered and tattered capital, Jerusalem, would take its place among the great of the world, a shining light and a magnet for great wealth. Jerusalem began to look that way in the time of Herod with his ambitious building projects and extravagant tastes. But that, of course, wasn’t what the prophet meant. It wasn’t where the King was born either, though it was where he was executed thirty-something years later.
God came in the form of a child in the Palestinian village of Bethlehem. The magi found him there and gave their gifts: gold for a king, but not like Herod; frankincense for divine presence far from the Temple in Jerusalem; and myrrh. That last gift wasn’t mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy. It is the spice used for anointing the dead. We remember the magi’s journey on the feast of the Epiphany. I wonder if the magi had an epiphany, in the sense of a striking realisation, a shocking discovery, that God is to be found at the margins, in the humble, among those who suffer. The psalmist was moving toward this realisation, in praising the king as one who would save the lives of the poor. But this is even more radical – that the King is poor, and will cry out to God when there is no one else to help him in his affliction.
St Paul had his own epiphany. As a devout Pharisee, he was zealous for the purity of the People of God. But the mystery revealed to him was that the walls which kept the outsiders out had come tumbling down. The Gentiles – the unclean outsiders – are invited to be part of the people of God. Now many Jews of Paul’s day could countenance the possibility of Gentiles converting, of becoming Jews and adopting the boundary markers of circumcision, eating kosher and observing the Sabbath. But Paul preached something different: he vehemently opposed circumcision for Gentiles -read Galatians – because it was as Gentiles, not as Jews, that they were to be included alongside Jews in God’s covenant community. The foreigners paying homage to the Christ child is a striking image of this mystery.
What will be your epiphany? In what unexpected place or person does the glory of the Lord shines today?