Reflection 1/3: Epiphany
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
One of the obsessions in biblical history down through centuries is the attempt to place all the stories of scripture in real time, in real geography, with an actual cast of persons crucial to events being detailed. I certainly have done this myself. A few weeks ago, I even mentioned how many tons the largest foundation stone of the Temple weighed, which in retrospect was my just being a smart aleck. The Christmas story seems to invite people to solve the “mystery” of what really happened, when and where, and by whom. One can visit multiple sites in the Holy Land, all asserting that this was where (fill in the blank) took place. One story that gets a lot of attention is the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family.
The reason is that this story has what seem to be real facts: a visible star, “in the East,” that moves “toward the place where the baby lay”; questions about what was this star anyway (and do we have descriptions of a celestial phenomenon from 2000 years ago?); about where the Magi’s home base was; and were they wise men, Magi (magicians), astronomers, or astrologers. Three gifts that cause us to wonder how many gift-bearers; where Herod was when he got the news of the birth of God’s son. And so on and on. Over the years I have read countless articles that have reported that these “real facts” are available at the ready.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really care. At this point, I don’t have even curiosity on the matter. Instead, I feel like nothing could improve on the story as we read it in Matthew’s gospel. Any digging for additional background can only serve to diminish the familiar narrative we have had all this time. I think the person who wrote the gospel would think we were daft to want to know more, particularly in terms of science, geography, and history. The story is already a perfect vehicle for what the gospel writer is testifying to.
That is: The child Jesus is the royal son of God. This extraordinary child is worthy of worship and gifts. Making a long, arduous trip to encounter Jesus is worth it all. The child can be found if you but know where to look. Jesus is a gift to the Jewish people and the rest of the world, too. Adding a stray fact here and map point there is only a distraction. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to always look straight at Jesus, and you will know all that you need to know from the bible.