We celebrate the Epiphany this weekend, the mystery of the manifestation or showing forth (which is what the word epiphany means in Greek) of Jesus as the Savior of the whole world. In actuality, the Epiphany is Part 2 of the Christmas story. On Christmas night, we read the story of the birth of Jesus as told by Luke. Angels appeared in the heavens, announcing the birth of the Savior to shepherds who were watching over their flocks in the fields at night. The announcement of such a wondrous event to shepherds is astounding, for shepherds were considered to be the lowest of the low among Jews in the societal standards of Jesus’ day. They were deemed to be dirty, unclean, unreliable rascals. They were “outsiders” as it were, living on the inside of Jewish society, but at the very fringes, barely noticed by anyone and looked down on by everyone.
This weekend, we read the story of the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem as told by Matthew. The Magi are never described as kings or even as wise men. They are called “astrologers from the East” who arrived in Bethlehem looking for the newborn King of the Jews for they had come to worship him and do him homage. As “astrologers from the East,” the Magi were likely pagans, perhaps practitioners of sorcery, perhaps Persians who practiced an ancient form of pagan religion known as Zoroastrianism, which is still practiced by a minute number of believers in the Middle East, particularly Iran, which is modern Persia. Like the shepherds, the Magi were also outsiders, not Jews at all, but nonetheless, they came in a search of the one who was born as King of the Jews, recognizing him as kingly, divine, and the One who would save the world, Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) alike.
Outsiders are those who are excluded. In our time when senseless terrorist attacks take place again and again, there is increasing fear of those who are different, those who are from outside of our zone of experience. And while it makes eminent sense for sovereign nations to exercise control of their borders and to exercise caution in scrutinizing who may or may not enter a country, we should not be paralyzed by irrational fear. Epiphany and the whole Christmas mystery remind us that God is the Creator of all things and every person. God includes everyone in his plan of salvation. Everyone is offered salvation by God through Christ. No one is excluded except those who reject that offer of salvation.
We pray that God may help us to open our eyes and our hearts to those around us so that we may see his hand at work in the marvelous variety of cultures, peoples and traditions that make up the world in which we live. On this day of Epiphany, may we, like the Magi and like the shepherds before them, have our eyes and hearts attuned to God, open to whatever way he may choose to show himself to us.