EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Mt. 2: 1
A brilliant star in the sky. Magi from the east. Camels laden with gold and frankincense and myrrh.
All of this immediately pulls us into the telling of what has become a major part of the Christmas story. And what these elements do is create a sense of wonder and mystery. It’s almost like Scene One in a theater piece that draws us in and keeps us glued to what will happen next.
Then comes Scene Two. The star has left the sky. The Magi have lost their way. And now we’re introduced to a king named Herod.
Strangely we sense the mood has changed. Something is not right. Suspicion sets in.
And yet this scary king seems like he’s truly interested. He even tells the wise men from the East “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
Scene Three brings about another change in mood. “Behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was …. And on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.” They do him homage. All is well.
Until a dream warns them of pending danger.
Scene Four tells us that out of fear of Herod, the evil king, “they departed for their country by another way.”
Scene Five, the climax of this Christmas drama, leaves us in a state of horror. King Herod, we’re told, furious about being deceived, “killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under.”
Epiphany, a word meaning a divine manifestation in the midst of human history, is one of the most cherished feasts in all of Christendom. And it is all built ultimately around a story of migration – Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus having to travel to Egypt to avoid the terror of Herod; a story of marginalization – the plight of the poorest of people; and a story of displacement – especially its impact on the fragility and innocence of a child.
What we North Americans probably don’t know is that this feast has a very strong tradition in the Catholic cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean. For them, on the eve of Three Kings Day, children get a shoebox and put fresh grass in it. The shoebox is then left under the Christmas tree or the bed. Very early on the morning on the feast of Epiphany, children un-wrap the gifts left by the three kings. The grass is eaten by horses. The whole day is then celebrated by all the family.
Children in all cultures, it seems, are a major focus of this feast of Epiphany and of this gospel story. Not just the child Jesus. Not just those slain by the brutal king Herod. But all children everywhere.
Perhaps this is an important moment for us, then, to step back from this long ago drama and remind ourselves that King Herod isn’t the only one who has killed and maimed and fiercely mistreated children throughout the world.
He isn’t the only one who has left children impoverished and trafficked and hungry and displaced and vulnerable to every kind of terror.
For example, one out of four children in the USA under the age of six lives in poverty. Overall, 22% of children in our country are poor. In the developed world, only Mexico, Chile and Turkey have higher child poverty rates than our United States.
According to Wikipedia, it’s now being reported that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. This situation has become so severe that it has been declared a major human rights violation.
In the United States, one out of every five children “struggle with hunger.” As a consequence, they often experience severe physical and emotional health issues.
The list of abandonment and housing and medical issues concerning children could go on and on.
Today’s gospel stands as a challenge to all of us to become better informed and more willing to extend help to end the misery that affects so many of our youth.
The star, the magi, a mother, a father, and a baby all plead with us to open our eyes and our hearts to the realities of terror and migration and vulnerability that children have to face in our world of today.
Many years ago, three wise men beckoned us to follow a star – a star that would lead us to the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. They found it in a child. They found it in a child born into great poverty. They found it in a child whose parents had to flee to another country in order to protect him – as so many parents still have to do.
That same star exists to this day. And it still beckons. It still inspires. It still calls each of us to risk reaching outside of our safe little lives and follow those wise men to the only place where we can find true fulfillment: in a child – a child who can then become for us “Wonder Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.”
Perhaps all of this is best summed up in these borrowed words:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes have gone home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to all,
To make music in the heart. (Dr. Howard Thurman)
And if I may add: to follow that star and those wise men to a place deep within each of us – that place of innate sensitivity to the pain and heartache of so many children throughout the world.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.