meditation on Epiphany: two kings and two ways of power

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A few thoughts on reasons to remember Epiphany

As this day of worship comes to a close my thoughts linger on Epiphany. Today is the first Sunday after Christmastide. What is Christmastide? Christmastide is also called the Twelve Days of Christmas which begins on December 24th, Christmas Eve. It depends on the year, but commonly  Epiphany lands on January 6th or 7th. I used to think as do most people that the Twelve Days of Christmas started 11 days before December 25th.

The Twelve Days of Christmas is set according to the Church calendar which is observed by many traditions in Christianity. It is not exclusive to the Roman Catholic calendar. Many Protestants recognize the importance and the need to respect key events in the Church calendar. In fact, there are many days of holy worship which Protestants observe though they do not follow the Church calendar. Though they ignore the Church calendar they are by default relying the Church calendar when they observe those holy days, such as Christmas and Easter. Many Protestants who do not follow the Church calendar have added in patriotic days into their church practices which should seem as odd to them as the additions by liturgical churches adding in veneration of saints to the Church calendar.

We should value and observe Epiphany because like Christmas, Easter and other holy day relate to events in Scripture. Epiphany is an important day due to key events in the life of Christ:

    • The visit of the magi
    • The baptism of Jesus
  • The light of the Gospel coming to the Gentiles

There are many varied Epiphany customs, dress, food or prayers represented in various traditions of the Church, but the most significant focus of Epiphany is the enjoyment Christ as King and Christ as Light to the world.

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Two Kings – Two Ways of Power

We could pull on several interesting threads in the account of the visit of the magi (Matt 2) or in the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3, Luke 3 or John 1). Let’s look at one – the two rival kings. I focused on the three visiting kings who in a previous meditation on Epiphany. There are two other kings in Matthew 2 which give us an enduring image of power used for good and for evil.

Imagine the inner rage of King Herod the Great when asked by the wise men where they could find he who was born King of the Jews. Herod was King of Judea and by Roman appointment, the wider reigning authority over the Jews. The wise men asked a question which triggered in Herod suspicions of more competition that needed to be eliminated. Herod by the end of his reign had killed some of his own sons, other members of his family. He was not opposed to killing anyone else to save his own skin, even if it was the Son of God, though he had no idea who Jesus of Nazareth really was. Recall the Slaughter of the Innocents that flooded Bethlehem with blood of infants and the weeping of helpless mothers (Matt 2:16-18).

Surely Herod is at the far end of evil personified and few of us have any intention of following in his path. Yet, consider what power does to a person. Herod had a kind of unchecked power in the region. What would you do if you had that kind of power where you are? You may have good intentions to use your power, but when push comes to shove would you do what is best? There are too many examples across history which confirm that old adage of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts totally.” What we should learn from Herod’s abuse of power is that at the root of his rage and suspicion was a plague of self-interest which infects us all. What idols or ideas does our anger and impatience reveal in us?

Though the Christ, the real King of the Jews, was just a babe (probably around 2 years of age), in his infant form we see him who is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He possessed all power. He possessed infinite authority and right to do as he pleased, yet in his life he did not set out to please himself.

We learn from Scripture when following the canonical thread of Yahweh as Sovereign  that this same power is fully vested in Christ to rule over his people and indeed over all peoples. Jesus the Messiah had and has the same divine power of Yahweh God for he is the Eternal Son. With this mighty power, power without limits, in hand he served others and no himself.

How then can an infant Christ be the One who is all powerful while sleeping in a crib or needing to suck milk from his mother? He made the wood from which the crib was cut and built. He gave life to the mother in whose arms he rested. He is also the Author of life (Acts 3:15). In the event of Epiphany we are spiritually woke (enlightened through the Good News) by the eminence of this Christ child who is the King of Kings we see embodied in the praise filled hearts of the wise men. That they came from a long distance using ancient means of transportation, that they came with gifts of great worth, that they in childlike simplicity sought out this infant royal babe tell us abundantly the measure of their delight in him. The praise they heaped on him is not a false praise like that given to earthly kings. He is worthy, but worthy because he betters not himself. He betters others by the life he has in himself.

The record tell us that when the wise men saw again the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, not only joy, not only great joy, but exceedingly great joy (Matt 2:10). They stood before the King who would not use his power to dominant others or sacrifice others for his own wants as did Herod. They stood before the King who did use his power to serve others and give his life a sacrifice to bring others in his good pleasure. Herod is threatened by this royal child. The wise men are not. Their anticipation to find Christ and their reaction at having found Christ tell us what of power has and even the kind of power he is. They have joy because Christ is a meek power, a gentle power, a torrent bringing shalom.

As this Epiphany comes to close may we crown its hours and all the hours of this New Year with fulfilled desire to serve others with the powers and skills we have been given by the Lord above.

image: ‘Adoration of the Magi.’ William Morris, 1886 wiki

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