Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, most famously celebrated on January 6. This Sunday’s Gospel story recounts the journey of the magi. Encouraged by Herod, the magi continued to follow the strange star int the sky. It leads them to the infant Jesus, there in the arms of Mary. They did him homage and offered gifts. They recognized something special about this little child and this recognition transforms them.
One of my favorite songs to listen to on the Feast of the Epiphany is James Taylor’s “Home By Another Way.” In this simple pop song, Taylor retells the story of the Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem and points out how this is a story about the ongoing journey of conversion we all are on.
Those magic men of the magi
Some people call them wise
Were oriental, even kings!
Well, anyway, those guys.
They visited with Jesus.
They sure enjoyed their stay.
Til warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way.
The song continues to speak of the warning the magi receive in their dream about Herod. In recognizing a different kind of power in that helpless, vulnerable baby Jesus they came to see the danger in Herod’s empty promises. Through the story of the magi Taylor reminds us that what is so often mistaken for power and glory in this world usually leads to violence:
Steer clear of royal welcomes.
Avoid a big to-do.
A king that would slaughter the innocent will not cut a deal for you.
He really, really wants those presents, he’ll comb your camels fur.
Til his boys announce they found trace amounts of your frankincense, gold, and myrrh.
Time to go home another way.
As Taylor also points out at the conclusion of the song, Herod is always out there. Like those wise men, we too must be on the lookout. Most of us are aware of how Herod can make his way into our hearts, infiltrating our ways of thinking and being. We can operate out of fear; we can be tempted by ambition and power, for pleasure, for safety, for accolades, and for security in one’s own sense of the truth. Epiphany challenges these temptations and calls for diligent conversion. This conversion requires an honest reflection on the ways in which Herod is present, lurking in the shadows of our own hearts and minds and actions. We must become even more aware of our own proclivities to be blinded by power or greed or fear of insecurity. It is this blindness that makes us complicit in political systems that support tyrants and cripple the most vulnerable.
This Feast day invites us to courageously consider what changes we need to make in our lives, homes, and communities. Most importantly, Epiphany reminds us that the starting point for that conversion is through the recognition that Christ is present in this world, laboring to bring forth light and love and peace. The love at the manger scene was much more powerful than the false accolades of Herod. That is what the wise men teach us. They looked on the face of that innocent, cooing, drooling, nursing, fussing, gurgling, completely vulnerable baby. They saw love and they fell in love and it awakened them to their own misgivings about the plans of Herod. Transformed by that scene of love, they left Herod behind.
With so much at stake in our world right now, I almost want to stay at the manger scene. But the witness of the magi gives us courage to continue on the journey. They compel us to pray and pay attention, and then wisely and prudently consider another way. Another way out of the darkness. Another way home. As we awaken to the painful realities of these uncertain times, let’s do as the wise magi did. Let’s travel in twos and threes. Let’s share our gifts with one another. Let’s draw strength and courage from ordinary scenes of love. Let’s sleep, for God’s sake, and pay attention to what insights come through rest and rejuvenation. Let’s steer clear of all the facades and trappings of Herod-like power and let’s all choose to be transformed and return home by another way.