This coming weekend is The Epiphany of Our Lord. The Epiphany marks the day when the three kings or “Magi” visited the baby Jesus in Jerusalem. Epiphany simply means a “revelation” or a “showing.”
Ironically, Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Magi do not seem like very bridge-building events. The birth of Jesus was surrounded by economic, political and social divisiveness. Jesus was born in a manger in a stable. His birth defied any notion that the Kingdom of God would hold any resemblance to our experience of an earthly kingdom; thus shattering the common notion of what it means to be prosperous and powerful. In addition, the story names the shepherds as the first to receive notice of Jesus’ birth, which added an exclamation point to Jesus humble beginnings, as shepherding was considered a somewhat lowly occupation. The circumstances around Jesus’ birth already seemed to be drawing lines between the “haves” and “have nots;” those with wealth and power and those without.
The visit of the Magi only seems to add to the political, social and economic divisiveness around Jesus’ birth. As the Magi enter Jerusalem and begin asking for the “child who has been born king of the Jews,” Herod is less than excited and is said to immediately be frightened by the news. It makes sense that fear would be Herod’s first response. Talk of a child born “king of the Jews” certainly would have been threatening to Herod’s throne; his reign over all of Judea. Herod’s fear of this new “king of the Jews” ends up being exacerbated by the Magi’s deception and he, subsequently, orders what is known as the “Massacre of the Innocents” or the killing of every male child under the age of two – a quintessential act of divisiveness.
So, how is possible that Jesus’ birth, life and death could be the ultimate acts of bridge-building when it seems political, social and economic lines were drawn even from the beginning of his life? I think perhaps the most important word in the whole of Jesus’ birth narrative might be: “East.” It is no accident that both the star and the wise men came from the East, as the East is where the sun rises. Though it might be lost on us as a simple directional descriptor, early Christians would have readily picked up on what it meant that both the star and the Magi were “from the East.” Just as the sun sheds light on the whole world – no exceptions, the Son of God shines light on every person in the world – regardless of political, social or economic status.
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus’ humble birth does provide the foundation for the rest of his life and ministry and he constantly challenges us to let go of any illusions we might have about social status, economical status, and political power. However, his birth also says to the whole world, “I will build a bridge long enough to stretch from the manger to the palace, because I am the light of the whole world.”
May you experience your own epiphany in this New Year,
The “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog is written by Susie Tierney, Executive Director, of the Center for Social Ministry. Susie hopes the blog will encourage others to be “bridge-builders” in this politically divisive time, and will promote dialogue and common ground-thinking. To sign up to receive our “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog click here.