The star, the darkness, and infamy on Epiphany
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
The Three Wise Men of the Epiphany refused to be seduced by the darkness. Graphic by Warren Harbeck with supplied clipart
January 6 is a date that will be long remembered, a day of deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol last week, a day of infamy.
Unprecedented? Not really! Jan. 6 is also known as Epiphany in Christianity, a feast remembering the visit of the Magi, the Three Wise Men (also known as the Three Kings), to Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus, a visit soon to be tainted by political infamy.
The story of their visit is found in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1–18 (here following the NRSV translation). Popularly associated with Christmas and pictured with the shepherds while the newborn Jesus was lying in a manger, their visit actually occurred sometime later, when Jesus was already a toddler going on two living with Mary and Joseph no longer in a stable, but in a house.
The Magi from the East had observed a significant star and followed it to Jerusalem. There they enquired of King Herod, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” The insecure self-interested king called a meeting of his advisors and asked them if they knew anything about this. Drawing on prophecy, they told Herod that the ruler who is to shepherd Israel would be born in Bethlehem, just a short distance south of Jerusalem.
“Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared,” the story continues. “Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’” This was a ruse, of course. Herod’s intentions were quite otherwise.
Well, the Wise Men, guided further by the star to the very house, entered it and paid homage to Jesus, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to inform Herod of the location and so returned to their home a different way. Joseph was also warned in a dream about Herod’s murderous intentions and told to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt till Herod’s death not long after.
Herod for his part was so outraged at the Wise Men’s failure to return to him that “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under,” hoping also to eliminate what he perceived as his kingly rival.
So that’s the infamy on the original Epiphany, a precursor to last week’s infamy on Epiphany in Washington, D.C.
There are many lessons to be learned from the original Epiphany. One very important lesson is in the response of the Wise Men to Herod’s invitation to return and brief him on the location of the newborn king. When the Wise Men saw Jesus’ star in the east, they shouted “Hooray!” But when they encountered Herod’s darkness, they said, “No way!”
Last week we witnessed the seeming triumph of evil over good, but the example of the Wise Men offers a better way. How I wish the riotous mob gathered on the Capitol grounds had also said, “No way!” But it’s so easy to be manipulated by hateful propaganda spread on the social media these days.
The Wise Men were led by the light of a star to the Light of the World and were not seduced by the darkness. Herod’s intrigue is a reminder that we, too, are not to be sucked in by the darkness; we are not to be people of the Lie, but people of truth, goodness and light in a dark world.
© 2021 Warren Harbeck