The season of Epiphany began January 6th and continues until Ash Wednesday. Epiphany, in the Greek, could be likened to a manifestation, a striking appearance, or a vision of God.
In the Western Church, an epiphany is had by the wise men, who came bearing gifts to the infant Jesus. And so, Epiphany is inaugurated by the retelling of the story of these magi from the east.
I like to think of this time as the last chance we get to celebrate the Christmas story before moving on to the new year. But what is being celebrated? And what take away can we get from this story?
Religious pluralism starts the Christian story.
Some scholars believe the wise men were from Persia. They were likely Zoroastrian, an Iranian based monotheistic faith that predates Christianity and modern Judaism.
They were the first to recognize God’s work in Jesus. They had an epiphany of what God was doing in Jesus and they traveled far to see this for themselves.
And yet they never converted. The wise men could recognize God’s work in Jesus and remain true to their own religious faith. And this is the beginning of the Christian story. Can we recognize God’s work in other religions not of our own like the Wisemen did?
The wise men’s non-participation with injustice.
When Herod finds out there is to be a potential rival, a future king of Judea that could overturn his reign, he is frightened and wants to find out where this future king is.
He consults with the wise men, but after the wise men find the child, they don’t go back to Herod to report on his location. In fact, they don’t go back to Herod at all. Receiving a vision (maybe of Herod’s plans?) they avoid him and go back to their own homeland. May we also be able to say no when asked to participate in an injustice like the wisemen did.
Injustice Still Happens
That doesn’t mean that Herod did not seek his revenge. He didn’t take it out on Persia. He took it out on the weakest and most vulnerable as he ordered the execution of the first born males of the land.
Some scholars think the slaughter of the innocents is a mythic account, not history. And yet the slaughter of the innocents happens all the time in our world.
Think Syria. Where over half a million Syrians have been killed by the regime! Think of how many other wars have taken the lives of children and families. In Yemen, in Afghanistan, in places all over the world.
In Matthew’s account, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are refugees. They are political/religious refugees and must flee to Egypt for their lives. Historical? That is debated. But is it true? Certainly.
For our world is filled with refugees from despotic regimes who will kill children and families to stay in power. There are over 500,000 Syrian refugees today in Egypt from Syria. Those numbers are hard to grasp or put a face to. So, let’s put the faces of Mary, Joseph and Jesus onto these refugees.
When the founding story of your faith involves refugees could this impact the way we talk about refugees?
Epiphany, like Christmas, is a story of role reversals.
The wise men, the magi, the kings that came to kneel before a child is a powerful image in a society where children counted for little.
And what could be more fitting than a homeless family, a refugee family, staying in a barn, with farm animals and wise men kneeling before an encounter with the holy? With God?
May the lessons of Epiphany guide us as we enter 2022. May we be the light that shines for the vulnerable in this coming year.
Rev. Dwight Welch is pulpit supply for Peoples and First Congregational and campus pastor at United Campus Ministry at MSU Billings