The Epiphany of our Lord
A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
The Epiphany of our Lord recounts the strange and wonderful story of ‘wise men’ – astrologers or magicians – coming from far away to find the Messiah, the great king of Jewish prophecy. There are many questions that accompany the event, and which remain largely unanswered: where did they come from, how did they understand that the star related particularly to Jewish history, what was the star, and how did it guide them, and so on; much is unclear. But for us, who seek the Christ child in our own progress of faith, the story answers the most crucial questions clearly enough. Why did they travel all that way, and what did they find? Whatever the star may have been, to those men it was the sign sufficient to overturn their lives and habits, and to move them to that extraordinary pilgrimage. Whether they doubted their choice along the way, we cannot know, though we may assume that like any journey of hope, they had to battle the darkness of discouragement, and the feeling of their own folly. But we know that in the end, they were not disappointed, because they left their treasures behind, and perhaps even more, because they didn’t return to Herod. Their hope was fulfilled at the end, and they were moved by a new understanding, a new view of things, so that they felt compelled to go home ‘by another way’. The vision at the end not only satisfied them; it changed them.
All this is a kind of parable for us, as we come to the manger and behold for ourselves ‘the Mystery’, and it teaches us how we should understand the consequences of Christmas, how we should know the fulfillment of our hope. ‘All men’, Paul says, are meant to ‘see what is the dispensation of the mystery’. We are all meant to see to the heart of the matter, to know ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’, in the eternal good-purpose of God We are not earthly pawns in a divine game of universal scope, we, as His people, the church, are the very vessels of the ‘manifold wisdom of God’. But only by our free choice. We cannot be forced to answer so high a calling. Like the magi, we must allow ourselves to be moved by holy signs around us—and like them we must first be open to such signs, if we are to be moved. We must be willing to give up our usual lives and habits, to follow a thing that seems like folly to our neighbours. We must persevere in hope, in spite of darkness, and when we arrive at the vision, when we stand before the child, we must surrender our treasures, our earthly dreams and ambitions, and so we, too, must return home by another way.