January 8th, 2017

Deacon Blaine Barclay

Epiphany – the word means, manifestation, revelation, to uncover, to unveil, a striking appearance, to display, show, come suddenly into view, to bring forward from hiddenness, insight, as in ‘I just had an epiphany’.  What a powerful word we used to name the feast we celebrate today. ’’The light of revelation to the gentiles”, unveiled precisely in the vulnerability of human flesh.

Today we recall the visitation of the Magi, wisdom seekers from the east.  They have come from far away, led by the light of a star.  Who were these Magi, and where did they come from?  There seems to be some agreement that they were Zoroastrian priests, from Persia, (modern day Iran), with knowledge and deep sympathy for Judaism and the Hebrew scriptures. Some scholars think they may have been converts to Judaism, which would explain their affinity for the wisdom found in the scriptures.  They have also been identified as king’s.  As our first reading says,  “nation’s shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Whoever they were, let us join them on their journey and follow the star.

Psalm 19 tells us that, ’the heavens declare the glory of God.  The skies announce what his hands have made.’ I don’t know about you, but some of the most profound experiences I have ever had of the presence of God have been while looking up at the stars on a cloudless, moonless night.  Overwhelmed with the mystery behind the cosmos. Held up and held together by the mystery of the love that gives rise to all that exists.  Our wise ones from the east have the courage to follow their star, the star that points to the vulnerability of the flesh of the child Jesus.

Everything about this story speaks of vulnerability.  The vulnerability of our wisdom seekers, traveling in a strange country, away from home and hearth, subject to the whims of a violent king.  The vulnerability of the children of Bethlehem, anyone under the age of two later swept up in the infanticidal fears of the same power hungry king.  The vulnerability of the child Jesus; now, no longer an infant, but somewhere under the age of two, who subsequently has to flee to Egypt with his parents in order to escape this holocaust of the innocent.  Think about that for a moment. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, fleeing in the night, spending his childhood as a Middle Eastern refugee family, fleeing the violence of their homeland.  How does the saying go? ’The more things change, the more they remain the same’.  Or do they?

The vulnerability of human flesh remains, as does the violence of politics, and the slaughter of the innocents. The displacement of persons is a constant throughout history.  And yet, and yet, and here we come to the heart of our story of the Magi and the child Jesus.  It is precisely in the vulnerability of this child, this toddler Jesus, where Epiphany happens.  The glory of God is revealed, unveiled, is shimmering forth precisely in the poverty of the flesh of this child, who even now lives his early life under the shadow of the cross.

Let us follow our Magi, priests, kings, wise men, across the threshold of our story.  On entering the house, (notice that it is no longer a cave, a barn, or a manger. ’’On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage’’.  In Baptism we have also crossed the threshold of the house of faith.  With them, let us also, ‘see the child with Mary his mother’, kneel down on the ground of our hearts, and pay him homage.  Recognizing the epiphany, the revelation of God, emptied into the flesh of this child, into the littleness of our own human flesh.  Here lies the wisdom of our wise men.  Theirs is not a complicated, abstract wisdom, hammered out in fine, high sounding words.  But a concrete wisdom that risks everything on a desert pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the ‘House of Bread’, paying homage to the playful flesh of this little child.

And finally, how do they pay him homage?  Out of the treasure of their hearts they offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  According to Exodus chapter 30, these three gifts were used in the incense offering and prayers in the holy of holies in the temple. The gift of our Magi was the gift of their homage, their worship, their incensed prayers, in the presence of the new holy of holies, the flesh of this Christ child. The veil has been torn aside, the Presence made manifest, ‘Epiphany’. In imitation of the Magi, in heartfelt response to the gift of Gods presence in our midst, Emmanuel, God with us, we too can offer him this same gift of our bended knee, our homage, our prayer, our w