Reflections on the Readings
The Epiphany of the Lord - January 2, 2011, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Come to the Light
Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."
Some things are meant to be felt, to be pondered. Christmas is one of these. But some grow tired of Christmas before the season even begins. Maybe it's because we start too early. Many believe that the season of Christmas begins on the day after Thanksgiving. From black Friday forward, the stores are filled with early bird savings and shoppers dreaming of a less expensive Christmas. And then there are all night extravaganzas for the serious bargain hunters. By the time Christmas Day arrives, we need to hear Charlie Brown exclaim, "Doesn't anybody know what Christmas is about?" And once again Linus takes center stage and tells us the story, the true story of Christmas.
This holy season invites us to ponder the great love story of Christmas; to feel its beauty and to absorb its mystery is worthy of every soul. The light that shines in the sky leads an entourage of learned men from the ancient region of Persia to Bethlehem. This nearly 1,200 mile trek is inspired by a star they say speaks of the birth of a King; namely, the King of the Jews. You can imagine the enormous preparation required for such a journey through a mostly desert area. Think about it. A star appears in the East and beckons these men to leave comfort and routine so they might also bow down before the Light of the world.
It takes some effort to appreciate why these men from the East find this moment in history extraordinary. Perhaps when Daniel served in the Babylonian court, under Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, and Cyrus the Great, he planted the Messianic hope in ancient Persia. It is Daniel, a pious Jew, in captivity in Babylon who is called upon to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dreams. It is Daniel along with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who are chosen to be trained as royal pages. They also are of the tribe of Judah; the tribe of King David and of Jesus our Lord. Remarkable events during Daniel's captivity occurred which gave him positions of leadership and a platform to teach the faith of his fathers. Perhaps this gives some explanation as to why these foreigners of the East have such an insight and expectation of a Messianic King.
Daniel would be aware of Balaam's prophecy: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.(Numbers 24:17) Much like Philip helped the Ethopian eunuch understand the scriptures he read, Daniel may have conducted 'bible studies' for those in positions of influence in his day; helping them to understand his faith, his hope, and manner of life. With the trust he had from the Kings he served, Daniel's influence was deeply felt among the most learned men of his time. The wise men from the East just may be the fruit of Daniel's rigorous and faithful piety.
Sometimes we need the exuberance and faith and hope of someone else to make us aware of the nearness of God. This is what the wise men do. They startle and bewilder Herod the Great and all Jerusalem with him. "Your light has come," they exclaim. "And we have come to worship him." That might get some attention. What a great and long journey they embraced to be able to say in Jerusalem, the city of David, "Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." I know Isaiah says it, but its the wise men who get it. And they bring their gold, frankincense, and myrrh as an offering for the new born King. The chief priests confirm for Herod that indeed the holy book says a ruler will arise in the land of Judah, in the city of Bethlehem, a ruler to shepherd God's people, Israel.
Encouraged to continue their journey to Bethlehem, Herod, under false pretense, instructs the wise men to bring him word when they find the new King. "That I too may come and worship him," he says. So they continue to follow the light that shines brightly in the direction of Bethlehem. Five more miles and their faith will be confirmed. Their eyes will behold the child and the love light in his eyes will move them to fall down and worship him.
I started this Reflection talking about the extraordinary things we all do to prepare for Christmas. But compared to the mystery that moved the men of the East, does our busyness bring us to the same majesty and light that captured their imagination? I hope so. For that one born in Bethlehem is the Light of the world. And with all those who have ever known darkness and sin and rebellion, we too are invited, nudged along even, to come to the Light. After the bows are tossed, and the tinsel is stored away, there remains on this Feast of the Epiphany, the Light that shines in darkness.
And the wise men, being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their country by another way. Then Herod, feeling tricked by the wise men, unleashes his dark and furious rage, and seeks to kill Jesus by killing all the male children two years old and under in the region of Bethlehem. These holy innocents, being the first martyrs of Christ, are forever the residents of that city of light where there is no more darkness, nor tyrants, nor death.
As we come to Christ who is our light, may he shine on us and through us, for there is still much darkness to dispel. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org