The Epiphany of the Lord
January 6, 2019
There really and truly was a King Herod. Historical documents as well as archeological ruins of the opulent palaces he built in and around his capital city of Jerusalem are solid and convincing evidence of Herod’s existence. We have a pretty reliable picture of the kind of ruler he was…and it isn’t pretty.
He was chosen by a foreign power to rule over his people, quite likely because the Roman Empire knew that he would do their bidding in exchange for his throne. He was brutal to the point of being bloodthirsty. Even his own family was not spared his treachery. He was extraordinarily self-indulgent. Over 2,000 years have passed, and what remains of his homes allow us to imagine a lifestyle that today’s billionaires would find impressive; this, in spite of the extreme poverty and suffering of the people he governed.
He was paranoid, conniving, and fast and loose with the truth. When he heard of something which he considered threatening or offensive, he became greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt. 2-1-12) While a good deal of information has survived about this despicable despot, there is nothing that supports the Gospel report of the slaying of the infant males of Bethlehem. Nevertheless, what we do know about him with historic certainty is consistent with that kind of crime against humanity.
Not a very good image to begin our reflection on this Feast of the Epiphany. Still, this is who the Three Magi encountered first, before finding The Christ-child. What is even more unnerving to the point of being frightening is the fact that Herod still lives! Clearly not the same person, governing the same impoverished country, but all over the world, there are heavy handed, authoritarian rulers who wield power with the same brutality, even to the point of murdering children.
By contrast, other than the Gospel, there is no solid and convincing historic evidence that there really and truly were Three Magi. It’s ironic that we keep good records of evil, but when it comes to goodness…heroic figures tend to be lost to the passage of time. Over the centuries, some details have been ascribed to these three mysterious figures, but the fact is, even though it is not in great detail, Matthew tells us all we need to know.
They must have been aware of God’s promise to send a Savior. They must have believed in God’s goodness and faithfulness, because they kept watch for the signs that the promise was fulfilled. They were definitely wise. First, they recognized the sign when they saw his star at its rising and came to do him homage. They were discerning in that they saw Herod for what he was. However, their lasting brilliance is that they recognized the Infant Jesus for Who and What He IS.
We have no idea of what happened to the gold they brought. But, this gift proves their understanding that they would be welcoming a King. The fact that the encounter we celebrate was not in a royal palace was of no consequence to them. Possibly they were aware at the outset of their journey that they were looking for a King who would put humanity first…a Servant King.
Although the encounter was in the most humble of circumstances…far removed from The Great Temple, the three seekers appreciated that they were in the presence of the Almighty. And so, they reverenced Him with frankincense.
And because they were aware of the fact that God had chosen to share fully in our human nature, in every way but sin, they came prepared with the gift of myrrh. They anticipated His death. Could they have known that His death was the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world? Hard to say, since there is so little detail left about them, other than the act of faith that motivated a dangerous journey. And then, of course, there is the fact that they still live! Clearly not the same three persons, but all over the world in the bodies of women, men, and children who seek Truth, Justice, and Love.
The three we honor today live within you who continue to follow the star. And your journey has carried you to Matt. 2:1-12…a story of faith, courage, wisdom, and generosity, rewarded with an encounter with The Eternal Word made Flesh.
COME! Let us adore Him….Christ the Lord