Tomorrow marks Epiphany. Traditionally, the church meditates on the Wise Men who searched for and journeyed great distances for the newborn King of Israel, along with other moments of Jesus’ being made manifest to the world. Long before the early believers experienced Pentecost, the journey of these three “foreigners,” equipped with and guided by pagan tools, pointed to the world-encompassing reality of Christ’s kingship. Jesus’ kingdom spans the globe, answers the longing of every heart in every nation, by means of every tongue. The Messiah of Israel is the Messiah of the world. And to that Messiah, the world is drawn.
The political drama that serves as the backdrop to the Wise Men’s encounter with this Christ is shockingly familiar to our modern era. It is a story replete with fallen realities that continue to plague our world – a jealous and murderous ruler, intent on maintaining power at any cost; the necessity of judicious wisdom on the part of the Wise Men in their diplomatic dealings with (and righteous disobedience to) a depraved ruler; and the slaughter of innocents and flights of refugees. This line-up is what we call a pretty typical spin of the news cycle, isn’t it? The Nativity scenes displayed during the Christmas season — quiescent donkeys, stoic Wise Men and Shepherds frozen in worshipful gazes — don’t depict the real turmoil that boils around this iconic scene.
It has always been so. This baby is marked by more than a star. The kings of the earth will either bow to him, or they will fear and threaten him. And perhaps they do so in a vain attempt to avoid the reality that they will eventually bow.
When we consider the Wise Men, it’s natural to think about vocations of political involvement, vocations often thought of as uniquely sordid most likely because they involve compromises and (hopefully) working with “one’s enemies.” Whenever I’ve heard Christians who work in the political or public realm interviewed about their work, very often they are asked if they’ve even been asked to compromise their faith for the sake of their work. I think the question is important and valid, but I also think it’s valid for every single vocation in the world – doctors, database administrators, mothers and fathers, and even missionaries. When does any one of us operate outside of the sordid realities of life? There is no place on earth that Jesus is not King, but there is also no place on earth in which Jesus’s kingship is not also feared and threatened. This fault line runs through every human heart, in every nation.
But he is still drawing us to himself, just as surely as those Wise Men were drawn by distant prophecies and a curious star. He is still drawing people to himself, through dreams and visions, through all sorts of longings, and through the work of his people throughout the world. He is still drawing the world to himself. Come, let us search for, journey to, and at last, adore him.
While New Year’s resolutions routinely go bust by February, Epiphany is a great time to develop enlarged visions and space for God. Search for him. Give him greater space to be made manifest to you and in the lives of people you encounter. One lovely resource is the website called “Pray as You Go,” provided by British Jesuits. Each day, there’s a short, 12- to 13-minute podcast with meditative music, Scripture reading, and guided prayer. It’s easily played on a smartphone during a commute. It’s the kind of tool that will break apart the little personal tribalisms that we develop about Jesus, and enlarge our vision of his love for us and for this world to which he came and for which he gave his life.