"Rise and shine!" I can almost hear my late mother's voice as she woke us up for elementary school. Not for many years would I connect that phrase with our Old Testament reading for today.
On this 6th day in January, we commemorate a time when God schooled us all about the little baby Mary had born under such humble circumstances. He is the God's Anointed King, the Redeemer of Israel, the Light of the People. Even the Magi (wise men of the East, who were probably Zoroastrians) had heard of him, and had traveled far to honor him and offer him rich gifts in tribute to his (invisibly) high status.
Herod, the King of the Jews (Judeans) as recognized by his Roman rulers, was displeased. He kept his throne by keeping order among his subjects, many of whom hated the Roman Empire and therefore hated him for collaborating with its occupation of Judea (also called Israel), which the Romans renamed Palestina. According to the story, he decided to eliminate this upstart, once the Magi found out where he was.
"Evil Herod," we're supposed to hiss. "Give the kid a chance." But how many of us welcome someone who has come to take our job or our place in society? How many of us welcome a new idea that has come to replace one that we have long thought true?
But, like Herod, most of the patriarchal honor/shame society that was Judea, would reject the claims of Jesus' followers after his death. Judaism would remain Judaism, while the Jesus Movement would eventually split from Judaism to become a Gentile religion. Which is where the Magi come in. They were Gentiles, a term for anybody other than Jews. According to the story in Matthew 2:1-12, Gentiles were a target of Jesus' ministry from the beginning. At least, according to the politics of the writer of Matthew's Gospel.
The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, took as his special mission to preach the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus the Messiah to the Gentiles of the wider Roman Empire. And so, whether or not Gentiles were part of Jesus earthly ministry (and much suggests he focused primarily on Jews and gathering in the twelve tribes of Israel), Gentiles were part of the development of the Church soon after Jesus' Resurrection. In fact, Paul's mission was to break down the distinction between Jew and Gentile by adopting Gentiles along with Jews into the spiritual Body of Christ.
So what we celebrate this day is the revelation (or Epiphany, or Theophany) of God in the baby Jesus as demonstrated by the arrival of outsiders. Arise, shine, for your Light has come!
Tuesday, January 6, 2015