Tomorrow is Epiphany Day in the liturgical calendar, a day that should never be underestimated for what it can teach us about the realities of power in this world.
Those of us who have studied the gospel of Matthew know that the author’s key question to his readers is “you who have the power, what will you do with it?” And this query is rarely more apparent than in the narrative of the arrival of the Magi in chapter two. For there we find a paradigmatic story of contrasts between those who have near ultimate worldly might and how they handle themselves in the face of true power entering the world.
On the one hand, we find the Magi. Wise Men. Magicians. Men of means. Of a different religion. A different world entirely. Scientists, really, who manage to read the signs in the natural world and then risk life and limb and likely their own reputations to come and worship this new King. A King they somehow knew would change everything, though still yet a child. They used their position to give all that they had to him.
Compare that with the autocrat king who had been propped up on a throne: Herod. He hears someone might want his seat of power and tries to keep it the sneaky way, asking the Wise Men to give up the child’s location without realizing it. When they get wise, he throws a temper tantrum that ends in real slaughter. Nevertheless, we see some eery fulfillment of Mary’s prophecy from the Magnificat with Herod, for he does not live long after he seeks the blood of the innocent.
In the gospel of Matthew, we see what happens when the powers of this world do not get what they want – a whole lot of fear and trembling follows. They attempt to march into our holy places of safety, to snatch that which is most precious to us, to silence all who would cry out in truth.
And yet, it was the Child of Bethlehem who broke the silence that night in Bethlehem: and his justice-filled Love will never be silenced. No matter what else the world may think they can take, the arc of God’s work in this world will always bend toward the fullness of life, empowerment, and equity for all people. That is the power the Magi worshipped and served. That is the power we still celebrate on Epiphany – one that we can still work for now. Won’t you come and join us?