On Thursday next, we will celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. One of the great traditions of Christianity, certainly one that has most immediately accounted for the impact that Christianity has had on the world, is the tradition of Christian visibility. From the very beginning, Christianity has been practiced openly, clearly, in full view of the rest of the world. It is in the very nature of Christianity that its beliefs, its ethics, be no mystery. The rest of the world should never have to guess what Christians stand for, what their faith is all about.
There is something essential in Christianity which can only be described with the word we use to title this feast. The word ‘Epiphany’ means to lay open, to make obvious, to show, to let in light.
The story of the Magi is the one we usually associate with the feast of the Epiphany. The wise men are eloquent symbols of a humanity hungry for the truth. And whether they actually saw a moving star, or whether that was a scriptural symbol of the star used by Isaiah, really it doesn’t matter at all. What does matter is Matthew’s revelation that Christ can satisfy our deepest need to know the truth. He doesn’t hide himself or what he has to offer. His message, his life, is open to the best, the most skilled, critical examination society can produce.
But perhaps Matthew’s strongest and most unsettling point in this Gospel is made in the fact that these wise men were foreigners, non-Jews. That underlines a truth that Christ has revealed from the beginning but one which even the sincerest believes, sometimes have difficulty accepting. That is the fact that Christ lays himself open to everyone.
And there is another strong symbol n the magi story, even though a pretty negative one, and that s the figure of Herod. In this story, Herod is humankind at its worst. That is so for Matthew because Herod is that part of us that not only shrinks back in our pursuit of the truth but even erects barriers in the path of others. That part of us that dims, covers over, the clear visibility of the Christian message and witness.
Anytime any of us say or do anything that makes it more difficult for those who see us to recognise and understand the message of Christ, then we are playing Herod’s role. Anytime we do nothing, anytime we fail to contribute to the clear visibility of Christianity, we are playing out Herod’s role.
Christianity is a revelation, a way of life that speaks openly, honestly to the deepest of human fears and doubts and questions and needs. And it does so with equal intensity to everyone, every age, every situation. Our lives, what we say, what we do, what we are, that must now be the star of the Epiphany.