Saturday, January 1, 2011

Epiphany for a Divided World

One of the eternally fascinating elements of the Christmas story is the journey of the Magi. The Philippines celebrated the feast yesterday. It is a straightforward story of wise men crossing the Arabian dessert guided only by a star while in search for an unknown king. The journey is long and, tradition tells us, by camel. I remember when in our childhood, after finding our gifts by the window on Epiphany day, we would scour the grounds for camel hoof prints!

The magi did not know it, but the king they were looking for was threatened by a king who was in paranoiac dread of losing his throne. “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” Threading the Jerusalem and Judean minefield, the magi nevertheless outwitted the murderous monarch. It was during biblical times when God communicated with men in dreams to save them.

The simple outline of the story is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea; that his birth took place in the time of King Herod; that Herod was sneakily na├»ve and had a paranoiac dread of losing his throne because he knew that he was not a legitimate descendant of King David; that the magi found the infant and, in a miracle of faith, adored him and gifted him with gold, frankincense and myrrh; and finally that God stepped into salvation history to rescue magi and Child. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”

We do not know for certain who the magi were and how many. All we know for certain is that the Greek word magus means a person gifted with superior knowledge, an expert in some field, especially astrology. The Magi evidently were not Jewish Tradition has developed to say that there were three of them, and that their names were – Melchior, representing black skinned people; Balthazar, representing us Asians, and Gaspar, representing the Europeans and the light skinned race.

The principal characteristic of the feast as told by Scripture is brilliance. We see this in the reading from Isaiah: “light has come . . . the glory of the Lord shines upon you . . . shining brilliantly.” And since not everyone then awaited the epiphany of God, Scripture tells us that “when King Herod heard [about the Magi] he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

And what is the relevance of the feast for us today? The story comes to us again in today’s world where there is so much racial, ethnic, religious and class intolerance in so many parts of the word including our own. We have unresolved political conflicts. There is the MILF war on one front and the NPA skirmishes on another. Even as the oppositionists throw bricks and stones at the Palace, the President himself is at war even with the Supreme Court.

The feast of the Epiphany reminds us that God has come to us all and for us all. We tend to forget this as soon as the holiday firecrackers are quieted and the revelry has ended. But we have all been called out of the darkness of our sinfulness into the light of God’s love and care. In this sense we are all equal. Today, therefore, we do not surrender to despair but we continue to pray that all men and women will be united as God’s children living in peace and harmony.

“At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is.”

3 January 2011

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