Reflection on the Feast of the Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:2-6 Matt 2:1-12
The key to this feast is in the epistle of Paul, in which he writes to the Ephesians of a mystery made known to him by revelation, the totally unexpected word that the Gentiles are also heirs, like Israel, of God’s promises — the promises realized in the Good News of Jesus the Christ. This mystery, Paul asserts, is a new revelation, not known in earlier times.
To sense the novelty of what Paul writes we need to recall that Paul preached the Good News to non-Jewish peoples around the Mediterranean, including the Ephesians. Ancient Ephesus, first a Greek colony and in Paul’s time a thriving Roman outpost, is the place we see in the news, one of the Turkish ports from which Syrian and other refugees launch boats into the Aegean Sea trying to reach Greece and entry into Europe. In our day these refugees are spurned as unwelcome outsiders, as also in Paul’s day the Ephesians were distained as outsiders by the Jews of Israel.
Like the wise men of old, today’s travelers launch themselves from Ephesus toward the west; the stars they follow are the hope of opportunity, employment, safety and freedom. Like the ancient ones, today’s travelers are met with Western suspicion, doubt and, above all, with deepest misunderstanding. What could the stars of western well-being mean to the coarse, uneducated masses of the east? And even if their aspirations were worthy, why should the West be expected to share with them, who worship a god who is not our god?
Are we not like the Jews of old, clinging to our ancient privileges of faith? And so, are we not also in need of Paul’s startling revelation: that God has made others people heirs in their own right. They need not convert to our beliefs and practices; any more than Paul’s converts were required to convert to Jewish ways and beliefs. As they are, the peoples of Asia, and Africa, the peoples of all continents are heirs of the Good News brought by Jesus the Christ, even if, like Paul himself, they never know Jesus.
I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ. I think I’ve caught his point of view. I think he would sum up the Epiphany like this: While we are hovering tenderly over our baby Jesus, foreign people come and, as we would expect, humble themselves and pay proper homage to our king. But then they leave, making it clear that his star means something to them outside our understanding. The baby Jesus is God with us in a particular way; and the star, the light that the wise men follow is, perhaps, God with them in a different particular way. And the gift of God-with-us for both Jews and us and the wise men is the universal Christ, with all of us, each in our particular ways.
Whether we follow Rohr or the older traditions, the important theme of the epiphany story is that one child, received as a long-anticipated gift by a particular people, is discovered to be much more than just their own treasure. Others, from elsewhere, with other hopes and expectations, also find their hearts’ desires. It is of the essence of God to reveal God’s own presence in the wonder of the universe, incarnate in all humankind, and in God’s compassionate presence, renewing of all creation through death into life.