We do not use the word “epiphany” very much. It means, according to Webster’s, “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” Epiphany is also the name that the Church has given to January 6—the day when the season of Christmas ends, and the Gospel story usually associated with that day is the story of the “wise men” found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2. Traditionally, on Epiphany, we talk about suddenly seeing or understanding something in a new or very clear way about God. The wise men, in their encounter with Jesus, suddenly understood that this child in Bethlehem was the king for whom they had been searching since they first spotted an unusual star shining in the sky.
However, it seems to me that the wise men also suddenly saw or understood something else in a new or very clear way. Having given their gifts to Jesus, they were “warned in a dream not to return to Herod,” the king, the ruler of that country, as Herod had instructed them when they came to his palace to ask where his successor was. That is, they suddenly saw or understood something about worldly power and the extreme actions that some people will take to cling to it. Herod was a menace, they suddenly saw and understood, which he proved to be when, as the story goes, Mary and Joseph fled with their son, Jesus, just before Herod slaughtered all the little boys in their hometown of Bethlehem.
And I wonder if this Epiphany, something similar can happen to us. Can we suddenly see or understand in a new or very clear way the appalling cost of some people’s desperate attempts to cling to worldly power, and can we choose, as the wise men did, another way? Can we suddenly see and understand, in the words of John Bell’s moving Epiphany hymn, that we will not find God dressed in the finest clothes or living in the safest place where spotlights glare, but we will find God among those who could afford no gifts—“we touched God in a baby’s hand.”
Pastor Don Steele