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Reflections in Epiphany by Bruce Ray, Pastor

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation” and refers to the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God and light of the world.  So today, we celebrate the visit of the magi and the fulfillment of God’s promise to send light into the darkness of the world.

I have always found the story of the magi fascinating.  As foreigners, the magi had little knowledge of God, yet they are the ones that receive the message.  Literally, the heavens declare the glory of God to them and they understand, leading them on a quest to discover the truth.  The insiders—the teachers in Jerusalem—can quote the Scriptures, but have no inclination to investigate.  It is a complete reversal of who is living in light and who is living in darkness. Knowledge of the light does not necessarily lead to walking in the light.  The magi, with limited knowledge, make the original star trek.

The story reveals God’s readiness to extend the boundaries of God’s kingdom beyond the borders of Israel.  Suddenly, the outsiders are the insiders.  The light of God is for all nations, not just a chosen few.  And God is ready to speak their language—the language of the stars—to ensure that they are included.  We could all learn a lesson from that.

I also find it fascinating that the magi go to Jerusalem initially to seek out the one that is born King of the Jews.  They go where one would naturally go—to the headquarters of the ruling family.  They assume—as most of us do—that if anything of great importance is going to take place, it will commence at the center of power.  They discover something else.  Their compass is off by nine miles.  The ruler that will shepherd the God’s people comes out of Bethlehem—a small town whose only claim to fame is the birthplace of David, another unlikely King.

God seldom works through the existing structures of power.  In fact, most of the time, God is set against the powers that be.  Herod is an impostor King, controlled by the Roman Empire and doing its bidding.  Herod represents the interests of Rome and the interests of self-serving power.  In the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, God is doing nothing less than announcing the removal of the existing powers in favor of a new structure that is founded in humility and righteousness.  God is ordering social life (the function of government) according to a new rubric.  In the words of Isaiah, “unto us a child is born…and the government will be upon his shoulders…and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”  God’s new true king will judge with righteousness; justice will be the foundation of his throne.  The kingdom will not begin in Rome or in Jerusalem, the seats of power, exerting itself over people in domination.  The movement toward God’s kingdom will begin from below, in Bethlehem, building from a new foundation.

How frequently people go to the capitol or city hall, thinking that answers will be found there.  How frequently we think that existing power structures will be the source of our help and salvation.  How frequently we buy into the notion that having the right person in office will make all the difference.  It doesn’t matter whose sitting in the chair if the chair is broken.  The existing structures of power are only concerned with one thing—keeping the power.  Herod, as we know, was not interested in the welfare of the people.  Herod was more than willing to massacre children to ensure a continuation of his power.  We need to shift our compass.  True north is not Jerusalem or Rome (or Washington or any other center of power).  True north is Bethlehem and the Christ child.  From Christ, we are able to orient ourselves toward God’s ways.

Finally, the magi are faced with a dilemma.  They have been instructed by Herod to return to Jerusalem after finding the child.  But in a dream, they are instructed to return home a different direction.  A choice must be made.  Whose instructions will they follow?  And what are the ramifications of the choice?  Ultimately, it is a question of allegiance.  Which king will we follow?

Return to Jerusalem will make Herod happy though the consequences of that are unknown.  After all, the dream is a warning.  Leave by a different route and you make Herod your enemy.  Neither option seems appealing.  Will the magi be true to their convictions and beliefs that this child is the rightful king (exit a different way) or will they be motivated by the desire to preserve good personal and national relations with Herod (return to Jerusalem)?

They choose to live by the conviction that the One revealed in the stars is indeed the One who should be given homage and obeyed.  They chose to recognize the True King by refusing to obey the dictates of the impostor king.  They choose whom they will follow.

In many respects, we are also faced with the same choice.  Will we following the King of Kings or the impostors that set themselves up against the principles of the Kingdom?  Which king will be enthroned in our lives?  Will we be enlightened by the “Light of the World”, or will we return to darkness because it is easier and better for self-preservation.  The impostors can punish those who do not obey their commands.  Innocents die.  We will remain outsiders to their privileges.  We will be perceived as troublemakers.

It has been more than 20 centuries since the magi made their decision, but the way they went is still the way to go.  Just as they were not taken in with the deception of Herod, we also can resist the deceptions of the many Herods of this world—those people who seek power, who cling to power, who worship power and expect us to live according to their plan.  And in so doing, we expose them for what they are—empty shells—and we reveal the fullness of the glory of God in Christ.

Choose your king.

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