by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter
My absolute favorite Christmas cartoon is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. And my absolute favorite scene is, of course, the one where Linus steps into a spotlight on the school stage and quotes Luke 2:8-14. Did you notice, though, that the only time Linus lets go of his trusty security blanket is when he gets to the part that begins “Fear not, for behold…”?
Epiphany is an ancient Christian celebration, dating back at least to the 300’s. The word comes from the Greek meaning to “show up”. To reveal. A revelation.
The Star showed up. The Angels showed up. The shepherds showed up. And the Wise Men showed up. All of which was foretold in Scripture.
There’s a lot we don’t really know about the Wise Men. We don’t know their names; the traditional names of Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar came in the Greek writings of the 6th century and from St. Bede of Ireland in the 8th century. We don’t know they were all men. (Of course you’ve heard the joke about how if the Wise Men had been Wise Women, they would have brought diapers, a casserole, and rags to clean up the manger…) We don’t know when they came – likely not the evening of Jesus’ birth, despite the fact that the Wise Men are part of the multiple mangers in my house. The way Matthew reads, it’s more likely they came 2 years or so later. We don’t know how many of them there were; we just know they brought 3 gifts.
What we do know about the “magi,” as they are called in the original text, is that they were a caste of Zoroastrian astrologers, from Persia. We actually know a fair bit about the Zoroastrians. Zoroastrians believed that God created both the invisible and visible worlds from Himself using His own light (if you’re thinking about that, cross-reference John chapter 1), and thus they believed in the divinity of creation. They believed in a Supreme and Universal God; they called him Ahuramazda (literally, “Lord Wisdom”) – a supreme, omniscient and omnipotent God, who symbolized truth, radiance, purity, order, justice, courage, strength and patience, who is both creator and sustainer. They believed in sin, that the world is the battle ground between good and evil forces, that God created spiritual entities and beings before manifesting their counterparts in the worldly material plane – so, for them, Spirit is holy but material is contaminated and tempted. They believe that after death the spirit returns to the light. (For all of that, cross-reference the entirety of the Bible).
In other words – their beliefs were not very different than is found in our Scripture. And so they followed a star that led them to Jesus.
But first it led them to the despot Herod: “When King Herod heard this he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” When Herod heard the magi had come to worship a baby who would be King, his response was fear. And when he was done throwing a tantrum in the palace and had all the sons in Bethlehem under the age of two killed, to alleviate his fear, all of Jerusalem – all of Israel – was frightened, too.
We collectively feel, these days, that we’ve been covered by darkness and fear. At this season of epiphany, I feel like it’s time to shake off darkness and fear, and show up and shine the light.
Because you know who didn’t seem to be afraid in the magi story? The magi. The ones who knew God were not afraid. Having met the Child, they recognized Him for the King He was and paid Him homage. Herod tried to get them to come back and report the location of this child King, but – warned by angels – the magi left for home another way. I think they knew you can worship God, or you can worship the emperor, but you can’t give allegiance to both.
Giving homage to Jesus sends us home by other roads, away from the fear in which earthly leaders traffic. Knowing Jesus allows us to let go of whatever trusty collective security blankets we cling to.
We can choose not to be afraid just because the King Herods among us are afraid. We can choose to lead the people around us into the promised hope and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The baby Who came to be Emmanuel is God With us.
Epiphany was only the beginning of the changes brought by Jesus. The revelation of a child born as king in Bethlehem shook the palace in Jerusalem and then turned the world upside down.
I pray we take time and show up for the journey to the Star, ministering to those we meet on the way, all this coming year – no matter what it brings.
Happy New Year, Presbytery of Cincinnati. Be Light. Fear not.