Epiphany means many things, but in the context of this day, it is a kind of spark of understanding something new. In that way, the Magi follow a star in the sky and make their way to the Holy Land, wanting to see the newborn king. It would make sense to them to check in with the current king, after all, they themselves were kings, right?
Clearly Herod was not too happy to hear about another king. He was not so secure in his power, he was angry and defensive, he had a huge ego, and he wanted things his way, and his way alone. In the zig-zag of lectionary readings, we are wise to recall the recent Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is a result of the magi visiting Herod. Unhappy about a child-king, and clearly threatened (by a baby?) Herod orders the cold blooded slaughter of male children under the age of two. It is stunning to consider, right? Chilling, disgusting, and stunning. That was Herod’s response to epiphany.
Anyway, the Magi made their way to Bethlehem and encountered the child in the manger. They bowed down, as wise kings might be wont to do in the presence of such a sacred one, and offered their gifts without hesitation. They are the complete opposite of Herod, a man who acts in total self-interest, a man who fears a loss of his power, a man beholden to a foreign power who has him under their sway. He takes that out by acting with impunity and mistreating his subjects. Those subjects must offer him fealty without reservation.
The Magi however, act with humility, generosity, and wisdom. They also listen to the voice of God in their hearts – which is how they undertook their journey initially, by following a star. Then they go home by another way.
Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
I was already thinking about how if the Magi were to undertake their journey today, would they be stopped by guards, a fence, a wall, or some other man-made impediment? It seems like they would, especially if they were three men of color from the Middle East. Or from Central or South America. The song brought me deeper into the mistreatment of and slaughter of innocents. This is happening in our allegedly pro-life Christian country as we speak, and is often defended by those who claim the mantle of pro-life Christians. Curious indeed.
When we think about the Adoration of the Magi today, when we worship and pray, may we remember who they were, what they did, who they defied, and why. First and foremost, may we always hold the Christ child above all in our hearts. That little baby, voiceless, defenseless, and vulnerable, living where the animals fed. It is He who is the object of our worship, our love, our adoration, not the one who appears to have all the power. The one who appears to have the power in today’s story is a sniveling and fearful coward who will do anything to keep his power. Even if it means making harmful demands of others, killing children, and generally serving only himself. Then think about the world we live in today.
What way will you travel from this day forth? Is there another way for you and me?