Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Epiphany of Our Lord

When I lived in Pittsburgh I sang in a compline choir that offered this piece each Epiphany. The tune is beautiful, but I can't remember who arranged it.

"Saw you never, in the twilight, when the sun had left the skies,
up in heav'n the clear stars shining through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the wise men, watching, saw a little stranger star,
and they knew the King was given, and the followed it from far.

Know ye not that lowly baby was the bright and morning star;
He who came to light the Gentiles and the darkened isles afar?
And we, too, may seek his cradle; there our hearts' best treasures bring:
love, and faith, and true devotion for our Savior, God, and King."

The festival of our Lord's Epiphany, as told in Matthew 2, was the church's original Christmas. In the west, Luke's narrative about Jesus in the manger and the visit from the shepherds has eclipsed the star and the Magi for several centuries now, which is too bad. There is nothing wrong with Luke's story about the infant Jesus, but Matthew's account offers a very interesting perspective on the effects that Jesus' birht has on the earth. As my colleague says, "There is no 'Peace on earth' in this story!" Herod is frightened. The magi must return to their homelands in secrecy by another way. Eventually there is a slaughter of innocent children. All in all, it is a sharp contrast to the serene setting offered by Luke. Sometimes I wonder if Matthew's account, now relegated to January 6 (which rarely falls on a Sunday) might not relate a bit more to the violent and pluralistic world we inhabit. Are the nations still drawn to the Light? Can science still pay homage to faith? How are politics and society upended by the advent of Jesus? What gifts do we lay before our God and King?

1 comment:

Matt said...

In the Christian East, Epiphany is celebrated as Theophany, with a sharp emphasis on the Baptism of the Lord, which is an Epiphany of the Holy Trinity. I wonder what a Trinitarian reflection on the Epiphany might say to a world that is becoming increasingly fragmented and individualistic.

In the West, it seems that early Epiphany celebrations had three focal points: Matthew 2, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana in John 2. This year in the lectionary we are treated to all three. How might this "triple header" reshape our lives in light of God's Light?