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DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?
The twelve days of Christmas are filled with stupendous biblical accounts and characters — a virgin giving birth, a carpenter adopting Mary’s son, grungy shepherds spreading news, and heavenly choristers singing alleluias. Today, on the feast of Epiphany, we read about inquisitive astrologers following a star. Although these stories still astound us what can we learn from them that will give us renewed energy for 2021? What is the Word of God revealing to us in these passages?
Literally, the word Epiphany means “appearance.” In the Book of Maccabees (15:17) it specifically refers to the manifestation of the God of Israel. Scholars assert that this account about the “wise men” — it appears only in Matthew’s gospel (2:1-12) — is the first announcement of Jesus’s divinity to non-Jews, the Gentiles. Scripture scholar Reginald Fuller wrote that one of the elements that shaped the tale of the “three kings” is the “folk memory of Herod’s character and of his psychopathic fear of usurpation during the closing years of his reign.” Hmmm.
Another way to read this story is to think of it as uncovering a divine cosmic scheme that includes something for everybody. If so, what is in that plan for our planet, you and me as we deal with civic and ecclesial power mongering, manifold inequities, and interminable grief? But first, who were those night visitors anyway?
It is clear from the biblical texts there were no kings in the caravan and their number and names are unknown. Further, Jesus was already a young boy when they met him. The magi (think of magicians or wizards) belonged to a priestly line in the Parthian region contiguous to the easternmost frontier of the Roman Empire.
According to Greek and Roman lore the word magi refers to “dream interpreters.” Perhaps these commentators saw the bright “Christmas star” (the confluence of Jupiter and Saturn?) as a sign that dreams can become realities or, more so, biblical prophecies fulfilled.
Many ask, “how can we make our dreams come true today?” A more essential question is “what new revelations will each of us bring into 2021?”
People are worn out from a relentless pandemic and never ending political follies. Many are anxious for a return to some normalcy. Is this what we look forward to, the same old way of living, working, studying, relating, friending, worshiping God?
Theologian Mary McGlone suggests, “the Magi might be inviting us … to read the stars, to look for epiphanies of God among us and to allow mystery to shake us out of our status quo and beyond the borders of our comfortable relationships and thought patterns.”
What exactly will shake us out of our tiresome routines and old expectations? In his World Day of Peace message Pope Francis wrote about the importance of developing a “culture of care.” It is a social teaching that promotes the dignity and rights of all people, advances the common good, develops a sense of responsibility for others, and protects the environment. 
The same urgency is facing the new administration in Washington DC. “To fulfill the mandate that the 2020 electorate has given them, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris must reject the politics of austerity and fulfill their commitment to policies that address human needs and cultivate human capacities.” 
The reason for this challenge is obvious to some but not all. The Brookings Institute offers one startling example from research conducted in 2016 but still relevant. “Gaps in wealth between Black and white households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception. The Black-white wealth gap reflects a society that has not and does not afford equality of opportunity to all its citizens.”
If we believe that God is love then maybe we need to move slightly away from the biblical narratives and images that stirred our imaginations this season. Instead of depending on a distant God to solve our problems what if we accepted what we believe, that we who are made in the image and likeness of God, can glow with love, showing love to one another like anyone who cares for little children. Mary looked into her infant’s face and saw the radiance of God. The shepherds got all excited, angels sounded their trumpets and magi perhaps thought a safe and secure world was forthcoming. Complex and difficult as it may seem we can see in each other the luster of God’s face. This can be our epiphany, our revelation of the presence of God in our midst.
The month of January gets its name from the Roman god Janus, known as the animistic spirit of doorways or thresholds. Janus has two faces. One gazes forward while the other looks to the rear. Mythologists consider Janus the god of new beginnings. As we leave 2020 behind we approach a new portal that, with assurance, will open up fresh possibilities for all of humanity.
1. Pope Francis, “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace” January 1, 2021 (No. 6)
2. Wm Barber II and Liz Theoharis, “What Biden and Harris Owe the Poor” in The New York Times, December 25, 2020