Debbie Northern, a Maryknoll lay missioner in El Paso, Texas, reflects on the readings for the Feast of the Epiphany.
After following a large star for several months, expecting the portentous sight of a newborn King, the Magi discover a recently born child and his parents huddled in a stable surrounded by shepherds and animals. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t refer to the confusion and bewilderment (and disappointment?) they must have felt. Yet, these kings, who were probably wealthy and well educated, “prostrated themselves and gave him homage” presenting their expensive gifts to the child.
So, although the Magi did not discover what they had expected, they were able to discern that this small child represented a powerful leader and a significant event in history. The Magi trusted in the guidance of the star, even if it led them to a stable. Then, they followed a dream (another sign) not to return to Herod, who wished to destroy any challenge to his power.
The word epiphany has come to mean a moment of sudden revelation or insight. So often when people come to El Paso through the Encuentro Project, an immersion experience that I work with, they have an epiphany about the migrant situation. They realize that the reality is not exactly what they expected based on media reports and political pronouncements. After meeting migrants in the shelters, they hear their stories of fleeing their homes due to violence, economic strife and climate change. They see the migrants as human beings who have suffered a lot and need help.
Just as Mary and Joseph had to take their newborn and flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s violence, so too are many migrants coming to the U.S. border looking for a safe haven to protect their children. They are trusting God to lead and guide them in their travels. And, just like Herod, many politicians are using the migrants as pawns to promote and protect their own power, provoking fear and loathing, instead of a humanitarian response to immigrants.
The Responsorial Psalm today explains the type of leader the Magi found: “For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lonely and poor; the lives of the poor he will save.” From Jesus’ humble birth to his death on a cross, Jesus was not what was expected of a Messiah. Another revelation that is unexpected is that Jesus is God incarnate; God taking the form and essence of a human being. This is truly amazing!
In my 23 years as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Tanzania, El Salvador, and the United States, I have experienced many epiphanies. I discovered that what I perceived coming into a new culture was not always correct or had more nuances than I had anticipated. These epiphanies have helped me appreciate the unexpected and learn to be less judgmental and pay homage to the local wisdom and faith of the people I encounter.
It seems that the feast of the Epiphany is often overshadowed by Christmas. So today can we celebrate by reflecting on where we have moments of revelation or insight? How do we respond to the unexpected people or situations that come into our lives? Are we able, like the Magi, to follow the heavenly signs and see God’s hand at work in the world? What gifts can we contribute to heal our world and bring people together? Can we humbly accept that we do not always understand the mystery of a Messiah who challenges us to care for the poor and oppressed?
Featured image: Photo by Inbal Malca courtesy of Unsplash.