For God, the feast of the Epiphany is a “coming out” party of sorts; For Christians around the world, a wake-up call.
The setting is violent and inhospitable: a King is born to unmask the truth about Himself, the One, and everyone. Revealed as human in the poor (a child) of the ancient middle-east, Christ the universal King awakens all to whom we are, and more importantly, who we can be: faithful subjects of a just and gracious God.
A lamb among wolves, Jesus is born a threat. One wonders how a newborn baby could scare anyone, but to Herod, an appointed representative of the Roman Government (for and from the Hebrew people), word of another, even a child, King is menacing.
The reaction of Herod (not really a King), the rejection of Mary and Joseph, and the visitation of the Magi (neither wise nor royal: I will say more about that later) associates Jesus, right from his start, with suffering and death. Of neither status nor wealth, Mary and Joseph are forced bear the Son of God in a cave with animals, shepherds, and God only knows what else. When finally visited by people, several days, if not weeks, later, they are not by their own.
The Magi (a name from whom we get the English word magic) are neither religious nor dignitary. Tradition calls them Kings but they are no more than wandering star gazers, led by faith to a child who will give them, symbols of the lost outsiders, hope.
Foreign and “unchurched”, the magi are no traditional believers. They are, nevertheless, a testament to Christ’s universal kingship.
In a marginal place, Bethlehem, from marginal people, Mary and Joseph, to marginal believers, Gentile magicians, a marginal Jew brings salvation and justice to all. A threat to strong, proud, rich and secure, the birth of the Christ is a wake-up call for everyone. God's coming out as with us is validation to flesh and fire for weary hearts.
Beneath inhumane tendencies to hide and divide, artificial make-up, Christ unmasks the inherently good, children of God's own image, the wandering souls longing to reflect His greatness. When self-deceit is removed, His holy innocence glows.
But who are we really? As children of God, we are born small and vulnerable; arguably, we remain so throughout our lives. We are human, we are good: humble truths that we so earnestly deny. Though we are poor, we long to be rich. Though we are weak, we long to be strong. Though we are foolish, we long to be wise. Etc. Yes, human beings posses all sorts of disordered desires.
A frequent visitor of the poor, the lost, the sick, and the imprisoned, Jesus turns our way of thinking, our disordered yearnings, upside down. Death to personal kingdoms, Christ unsettles the stable and brings hope to those who live on the edge.
So what about us? Are we threatened by a God who shows us who we really are? How do we respond to a king who prevails as small and tender like ourselves?
On this celebration of God’s humanity, it is time for Christians around the world to wake up and face reality (we are all, like Christ, human and good). And though we be masters of our personal destinies, there is but one king in this universe. Like him, the child of poverty, rejection and violence, may we be humbled yet again. May we come out as faithful subjects of a just and gracious God.