by Rev. Laird Bryson
“. . . they departed to their own country by another way.”
Epiphany, January 6, Wednesday – Isaiah 60:1-6,9; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
(ESV Daily Office Readings Online)
Today we come to the end of our Advent/Christmas devotions with “The Epiphany of Our Lord,” also known as “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” A little history, as supplied by the book Lesser Feasts and Fasts, may be of help:
A Christian observance on January 6 is found as early as the end of the second century in Egypt. The feast combined commemorations of the visit of the Magi, led by the star of Bethlehem; the Baptism of Jesus in the waters of the River Jordan; and Jesus’ first recorded miracle, the changing of water into wine at the marriage of Cana of Galilee—all thought of as manifestations of the incarnate Lord. . . . In the West, . . . ., including Anglican Churches, the story of the Wise Men has tended to overshadow the other two events.
So, I will also focus upon the visit of the wise men, and upon what immediately preceded and followed that visit, and how all of this might apply to our own faith journey. The event immediately preceding their visitation, of course, was The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ – what we and much of the world observe as Christmas Day!! Emmanuel! God With Us! God, come to “pitch His tent among us!” Angel choruses! Peace on earth! Wow! How wonderful!
But, by the arrival of the wise men to worship the Child, some time had passed. It was months, possibly even approaching two years, before they came. By then, Mary, Joseph and the Babe were not in the stable, but in a house. (vs. 11) And dark forces were gathering. King Herod was threatened by this new “king of the Jews.” And so it was, that when the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to him to report the location of Jesus, they instead “departed to their own country by another way,”(vs. 12), what followed their visitation (going on from today’s reading) was that Herod had all the male children two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem killed. (Hoping that would include the feared Christ Child). By God’s grace, Joseph had already been warned of Herod’s plan and had taken Jesus and Mary into Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. (vss. 13-15) Jesus became a refugee in a foreign land.
Life, love and hope, followed swiftly by fear, evil and death. Jesus a King, and then a refugee, sent into exile. Children slaughtered. And so it continues in our own time. Babies – God’s gifts of life, love and hope – are killed even before they can be birthed into the world. Others are born, only to be killed by neglect, starvation, slavery, drive-by shootings, drugs, and outright murder. Waves of violence in our own city, across the country and around the world injure, mutilate, torture and kill hundreds of thousands of God’s precious children of all ages – men, women, and children – while others are sent by the millions into exile, refugees in foreign lands.
Evil continues to stalk the world, and at times seems to be winning. But we who have “read the end of the Book” know that this is not so! God wins!! Love wins. And where are we in all of this? Like the wise men, dear sisters and brothers, the Christ Child has been manifested to us. We do not know what happened to the wise men. Tradition claims that they either became Christians on their own or after later encountering one or more of Jesus’ apostles and that they were martyred for their faith. We don’t really know.
What we DO know, is that, like those wise men, having seen the Child, having had our own epiphanies, we must return to our “own country,” our world, our life, “by another way.” We are “marked as Christ’s own forever” and we cannot return to life “as usual,” life lived as if He did not exist, or did not matter. St. Paul tells us that we who are “in Christ” are a new creation. “The old has passed away; behold the new has come. . . Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 17, 20)
As Christ’s ambassadors, you and I have the wonderful, although challenging and sometimes demanding, mission to take His appeal of peace and love and joy and reconciliation to all the world around us. We can help those whose lives we touch in any manner (and that can be those immediately around us, but even those who govern us and those in foreign lands) to live life in “a different way,” God’s Way! Life instead of death! Freedom instead of slavery! Good instead of evil! Love instead of hatred! We can do this. We must do this. For if we, who follow Christ do not, who will?
Come, brothers and sisters, let us “depart for our own country (and perhaps others) by another way.”