For a preacher, the challenge of Epiphany is that it comes every year.
The story unfolds as it always does: King Herod, the wise men from the
East, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By now, the pageant is
overplayed. The star of wonder has lost its awe. How, in this
over-handled text, can anything new break through?
At Epiphany, the feast of the shining, we come to the end of the journey that began six weeks ago with the portentous announcement of the coming of the Lord, the streaming of the nations toward Zion, and the invitation to walk in the light of the Lord. We find ourselves with an array of kings—Herod, David, the Magi—and a newborn child. We have become accustomed to understanding that the One coming in will do so quietly, in vulnerability, in the midst of violence, prepared for suffering. So it's easy to forget that the whole point is that all of these kings were left in the shade by the radiance of the King of kings.
If you are like me, you dread one essential part of Christmas celebrations: gift-giving. My problems start with shopping. To give, you have to shop, but for me shopping is disturbingly disorienting, especially at Christmas. With all the glitzy stuff staring at me from everywhere I can’t figure out what I like (let alone what I like and can also afford).
Because we know almost nothing about the wise men, our imaginations take wing. If we were brought up in the Christian faith, these characters have ridden across our minds and hearts ever since we were taken to our first Sunday school pageant.
Matthew is not the first one to imagine three rich wise guys from the East coming to Jerusalem. His story line and plot come from Isaiah 60, a poem recited to Jews in Jerusalem about 580 b.c.e. These Jews had been in exile in Iraq for a couple of generations and had come back to the bombed-out city of Jerusalem. They were in despair.