by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM January 17, 2021
Every year it’s the same. I ache with the expectant longing of the Advent Scriptures. I delight in the Christmas narratives with images of Emmanuel choosing to fully inhabit our human condition and become God-with-us. And then, in January, the Magi arrive.
Although we know few details about these ones we call “wise,” Matthew tells us (Matthew 2:1-12) that they came from “the East” and that they carried gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We assume they had an advanced knowledge of astronomy, since they “saw his star at its rising” and they followed that star “until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”
But it’s their very appearance in the Christmas narrative that unleashes uneasy anticipation in me, because I’ve heard this story many times and the ending remains the same. After beginning their journey with honest and pure intentions, the Magi entered into their pilgrimage not fully understanding but drawn by a deep, mysterious longing. Directed in a dream not to make a return visit to Herod but instead to depart for their country by another way, these wise ones unintentionally set in motion tragic consequences. Their decision to circumvent Herod was the tipping point for the madness of a crazed despot. Terrified of being dethroned by a toddler, he ordered the snatching of other toddlers out of the arms of their powerless, wailing mothers in a scene of unimaginable slaughter.
So every year at the end of the Christmas season, there’s a sense of dissonance as we move from the relative calm and adoration of “Silent Night” to the sounds of Rachel rocking back and forth in utter desolation, keening and refusing to be comforted because her children are no more. The crèche and the bloody cobblestones, back-to-back. Bethlehem and Ramah, back-to-back. How are we to make sense of this contrasting placement, or are we?
We call the story of the Magi the Epiphany, the manifestation. So what might be being revealed here? The mystery of human suffering, certainly, and one beyond our ability to comprehend or explain. The welcome and inclusion God offers to all people, yes. But could all of these events also be the Holy One’s leading us to an enduring truth: that, no matter what is happening, we are being accompanied at all times by the Divine. The Holy One is with us when we leap in delight, joy, and play, as well as in those moments when we’re brought to our knees crippled by pain, howling in rage, rendered mute by inconsolable loss.
God holding in tender arms the families whose loved ones have been brutally taken away by COVID-19. God rejoicing in the collaborative coming together of the scientific community to create a vaccine. God with us lamenting the violence that destroyed life and property last week at the U.S. Capitol. God with us applauding the swell of citizens gathering courage to voice their vote, to lead with compassion, to form a more perfect union.
In this imperfect world that so longs for wholeness and healing, the Epiphany manifests the simple truth that God is here, that God welcomes and accompanies. May we be blessed in this revealing.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may find it helpful to gaze on images of both compassionate care and social sin in our world.
Name how light and shadow are reflected in what you see.
Ask the Holy One to bless your efforts to grow in spaciousness of heart as a person of peace.
Featured image: Inbal Malka, Unsplash
This coming week I was scheduled to be in Ocean City, Maryland, praying and reflecting with a women’s group. That experience has been canceled because of COVID precautions, but I ask you to hold in prayer all who would have participated.
Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 29-31. I will be one of the directors for this retreat. Thank you.
Please join me also in praying for a peaceful transfer of power with the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris and for the healing of the soul of the United States, as we pray also for a deepening of compassion throughout our beautiful yet wounded world.
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