Gospel reading: Matthew 2: 1 – 12
Blessed and joyous Epiphany! I am with the Christian traditions and cultures that see Epiphany rather than Christmas as the highlight of this whole season. Matthew shows real genius in creating an apparently simple story to get across an important message. The story has caught people’s interest and imagination and is widely familiar and loved after 2000 years. When a story travels so far and for so long it inevitably gets changed, and rarely for the better.
We have taken enthusiastically to the three kings and made them central to the story. Matthew says nothing about three kings- he says ‘wise men from the east’. It may seem trivial but I think we have already lost a lot when we change ‘wisdom seekers’ into ‘kings’. The fact that they are gentiles from ‘the east’ makes clear that Jesus has not come only for the chosen people but for all humankind and all creation.
Quite a while ago I came across a passage in Gertrude von le Fort which I love, and associate with Epiphany. Sophia, Divine Wisdom speaks:
I carry on my head the noble web of ancient thought.
Behold, in me long-vanished generations still kneel,
and out of my soul many pagans shine towards the infinite.
I lay hidden in the temples of their gods,
I was darkly present in the sayings of their wise ones.
I was on the towers with their star-gazers.
I was the desire of all times, I was the light of all times.
I am the way of all their ways, in me the millennia are drawn to God.
This is Matthew’s message in another form. Divine Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, has been present and active from the beginning always and everywhere, and not only among those who have heard of her.
We may be so distracted by the exotic kings on their long-legged camels that we miss the remarkable climax of the story. Their continued seeking ends; they have found what they sought. But no choirs of angels, no miraculous displays of power, nothing exotic (not even stable and manger which we have made somewhat exotic at this stage) but an ordinary working-class home, child and his mother. Do they feel cheated? Do they reject the unexpected? No. ‘On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage then …they offered him gifts’. How extraordinary! How utterly amazing! Through the guidance of the Spirit and their own complete openness they recognise Christ.
If we who seek Christ are attentive to the Spirit and open as they were, we too will find him- will have our Epiphany – and it won’t be all that different.
Genevieve Mooney, OP