Homily – Epiphany Sunday, the 8th January 2023
Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
Why did the Almighty choose a child wrapped in swaddling clothes to reveal the majesty of God’s glory? Why did the revelation of the Almighty manifest in the fleeing as a fugitive and living as a refugee?
Why was Epiphany made manifest in a homeless child fleeing as a refugee?
ἐπιφανείας the Greek word meaning appearance ( a glorious or majestic appearance) is used once in the New Testament to point at the birth of Christ (2 Timothy 1:10) and five times to refer to the second coming (2 The 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1; 4:8 and Titus 2:3). Traditionally it is associated with the visit of the three wise men and the presentation of the gifts. Is the essence the acknowledgement of Christ as King. It is and far beyond. The night before Epiphany is the Twelfth Night and traditionally Christmas decorations are taken down at that point. And in Twelfth Night Shakespeare reminds us “Love sought is good. But given unsought is better.
Epiphany is all about comprehending the revelation of God. However much God reveals God’s love and glory if we are not able to comprehend the same the wait continues till that moment of revelation and realisation. The moment we realise that all love is just pointers to this Ultimate Love. Sometimes we comprehend it seeking and sometimes it comes seeking for us. Yes Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.
2 Timothy 1:10 reads- but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. It is about the revelation and the appearing.
And the most pertinent question is He has appeared. Have we seen him?
The experience of the Magi is painted by Matthew 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
This seeing and experience the child has been Epiphany Encounter of several people across the years and the question is Have we had that experience. The Wise Ones continue to search and find him.
I had heard about MonaLisa as a young boy. I knew about its different images that were frequently available. I knew the story and history of MonaLisa. I could take a class on the painting. But when last week I saw it in person for the first time. It was a very unique experience.
The popular legend of the fourth Magi
Along with Belzer, Casper and Belsessar there was also a fourth man who wanted to be part of the journey. His name was Artaban. He had three precious stones to give to the King. However as they were about to embark on the journey he was called to help a dying man. He could not ignore the call and go, so rushed to help and had to spend a precious stone to help the family cope with the death. By the time he returned the three had already gone. He had to find his own way following the star but by the time he reached Bethlehem the family had already fled to Egypt. However he could spent another precious stone to save the life of a young child destined to die. His search went on for thirty years until one day back in Galilee. Disappointed that he could not see the king despite all the good work he did he used the last of his precious stones to save a girl from being sold to slavery. Tired as he was and as he rested heard a rabbi preach- the little you did to the least of these you did it unto me. He continued his search until the day he reached Golgotha where the crucifixion was happening. He ran beneath the cross, exhausted and heard the words- Today You shall be with me in Paradise. The Other Wise Man had seen his King.
Across generation several had the wisdom to persistently seek and God was gracious in revealing Godself in unique ways to each.
The search still continues. The Wise Ones continue to see his glory and experience the Epiphany in new and creative ways.
How about our young people!
I was engaged in a discussion with some teenagers this week and their interest was Avatar 2. The Way of the Water a 2022 American Science Fiction which is a sequel to 2009 Avatar produced and directed by James Cameroon.
‘Human’s are coming’- is the key point therein and their destructive ways and war that destroys the tree people and the sea people is depicted in a very youthy language.
The discussion began at the point when the fugitives reach the sea people. They are clear we do not want your war to be our war. The Tulkuns the reef people preach peace above everything else. But then seeing the refugees seeking asylum Tonowari played by Cliff Curtis says- Teach them our ways so they do not suffer the shame of being useless. The adaptation is telling.
When Jake Sally played by Sam Washington says- I got nothing, I got no plan. But I can protect this family. That I can do. I am done with war. I just want to keep my family safe. That is the echo of the mood of millions around us today including soldiers and generals. The deep antipathy to war and violence. But the fleeing from the land of Trees to the Land of the Reefs reminds us of the fleeing in Matthew 2.
It is true, the thing about happiness is that it can vanish in a heart beat and Avatar affirms- killing, no matter how justified, brings more killing.
The official synopsis reads: “Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.”
The destruction that the humans coming back create is massive and the blame is on others. In Pandora’s underwater world is Payakan the outcast. The Tulkuns did not condone any killing even if it was for protection but the gift that Lo’ak Jake’s son offers is companionship to the outcast to the ire of many around him.
The youngsters said- this is the story of young people. Not just Netayam and Loak, Tuk and Ciri and Spider, Aonung and Tsireya but far beyond. It is a prayer to the humans not to destroy and kill. In the search for Amirtha- the anti aging antedote they are on a killing spree and that is a paradox.
Avatar is transcending your boundaries. Its not just Jake the human becoming a Navi, or the Sallys staying together agreeing to become like the Reef People. Incarnation is risky business
And one of the young people pointed me to a review- I quote, “If Eywa did indeed help give birth to Kiri, then this miraculous conception would make her a messiah figure for Pandora. The depiction of Kiri as a Christ-like figure goes deeper than just the circumstances of her birth, too. The movie shows that Kiri is able to adapt to every environment in Pandora quickly, taking to the Metkayina waters as if she’d been part of the clan her entire life and breathing human air naturally at the humans’ base when other Na’vi cannot. Also, in Avatar: The Way of Water‘s final set piece, Kiri manages to save her family by literally bringing light to the darkness. Child bringing salvation and light and connecting to the cosmic energy need to be discussed.”
How do we re-read the story of the visit of the Magi in the age where the plight of the Christ child is not of interest to many but Avatar is.
At the Carol Service I reflected on the different characters of Matthew 2:1-12 and their responses to the Christ child.
Of the Magi we heard
- They noticed the star and decided to pursue their quest for the Messiah they were waiting for
- The followed the star and when they saw the palace they forgot the star
- They were overjoyed to see the star waiting and continued the journey till they were pointed to the child.
- They entered the house, saw the child, knelt down, paid homage, opened their chests, offered him gifts
- They were warned in a dream and returned home taking a different route
That exactly is the Epiphany experience
And of the star we heard that it was a Shining Star, A Guiding Star, A Waiting Star, A Joy giving Star, A Pointing Star and a Vanishing Star.
But given the context in which we live today we cannot but take a closer look at the child who was God head made manifest, who was the Avatar of God to save the creation.
Today I would draw your attention on the child lest the focus on the kings and the gifts robs the essence of the story away.
The Miracle and Mysteries of each Child- The Grand Plan and Purpose of God.
Children are the key to the possibility of salvation, new beginning, new horizons. It is very important we ask the question what is happening to the children around us today. The vulnerability they face and the sense of insecurity they encounter across the world in different contexts are painful. In my engagements with peace I have worked with child soldiers and was surprised as to how they were brainwashed to give and take lives for a cause. Child labourers, Children thrown into orphanhood when the parents decide they do not want them anymore.
One child, One teacher, One Book, One Pen. That is enough to change the world suggested Malala Yousafzai the child heroin who fought with resilience. She reminds us. “ I do not want to be known as the girl who was shot by the Taliban but as the one who fought for our books and the pen back- which were stolen away from us by force.
Children has the potential to affect history. That is the message of Epiphany.
The Identification with The Spaceless,
No Room in the Inn is very much associated with Christmas. The King of Kings becoming spaceless. It cannot be without a purpose. It is in solidarity with children born in faraway lands. With the strength of the support system of home missing nursing a child in a far away land is never easy.
I remember when our children were born- all the four grandparents were available to take care of them. Our siblings were there. There were traditional ayurvedic post natal care procedures for which we just had to be willing. It was the celebration of a community. The people of the congregation took care of them. I have always wondered how it would have been if we were in a foreign land.
We have several children denied of space that is due unto them across the world. New colonialism, war and violence
Children living in and fleeing from conflict zones are most vulnerable. Poverty and hunger that is taking alarming dimensions are affecting young children. The disruption that the pandemic brought to children including denial of their study and play spaces have had a deep impact on their mental and emotional health. Climate change and the growth of child mortality are taking unprecedented forms.
Children crossing borders- like the Sally’s crossing over to the reef people is a reality. Denied of spaces of familiar terrain and forced to live in spaces they are alien to the challenge is alarming.
Incarnation takes forms if identification with such.
The Fleeing Amidst the Crying of Children and Mothers around them.
The decree to kill all children under two is taking new manifestations each day today, Foeticide and Infanticide are finding new ways of acceptance. Mothers beating their chests seeing the death of their children in front of their eyes is a common sight. We see that in Ukraine. We see that in every area of war and violence. The refugee crisis and migration in search of better life is taking new dimensions. Nations are seeking new ways of keeping asylum seekers at bay and sending them back to areas where safety is perceived though people are fearful of returning.
The Vailing of Children and Mothers were heard and though it all Jesus cuddled in Mary’s arm is fleeing. That is an image of Epiphany we cannot brush aside.
The Flight that does not have a navigator was never easy. The flight without an aim or a destination is always hard. Only when we go through that we see how dangerous is it.
I remember going to a No-Man land during a war. The caution was simple beware of landmines. That meant each step could be triggering a blast. Children were used as human shields in the buffer zone. Running away having to cross such mines and barbed wires escaping eyes of surveillance can be devastating.
The Children who live as refugees, fearful of rulers and hoping for regimes to change.
There are many living as refugees in faraway lands in fear hoping for a regime change one day. Hoping to return one day but fully knowing that might not be possible.
Living as refugees several children are forced to do education in a language and culture alien to them. If you want to be here integrate to OUR ways says the benevolent ones not mindful that language skills are not for all.
The threat of lost childhood and the identity crisis while living far away is not easy to be understood by others. Sometimes they have no choice but to sign in dotted lines and this could have deep mental trauma implications.
Separation from roots and families can mean being exposed to xenophobia in subtle and different ways. They naturally become islands in host contexts and people brand them as “mistakes of the asylum policy”
Christ decided to be One Among Them
Epiphany reminds us that the responsibility of the Church is to serve such children and enabling them to live with dignity and decorum
Epiphany was so magnificent yet did not miss out identifying with the children in the margins and the pains of their dear ones.
It is all about being with
That is the Call of the Church
Pope Benedict XVI in his World Migration Day Address of 2011 said-
“Dear brothers and sisters, the world of migrants is vast and diversified. It knows wonderful and promising experiences, as well as, unfortunately, so many others that are tragic and unworthy of the human being and of societies that claim to be civil. For the Church this reality constitutes an eloquent sign of our times which further highlights humanity’s vocation to form one family, and, at the same time, the difficulties which, instead of uniting it, divide it and tear it apart. Let us not lose hope and let us together in prayer”
Epiphany happens in unexpected places and in unexpected ways
Let us be wise enough to seek and find
Let us be humble enough that this experience would come seeking us
January 8, 2023