January 5, 201801/21/2019
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him…Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’ After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way…When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi” (Matthew 2:13, 712, 16).
The story of the Epiphany is a story of contrasting leadership revolving around the central event of Christ’s birth. The magi, foreign rulers from a distant land, respond with faith, commitment, and humility, making the long, dangerous trek to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king. On the other hand, Herod, king of Judea, the land where Christ was born, responds with arrogance, self-serving deceit, and murder, attempting to trick the magi into telling him where Jesus is so that he could destroy this perceived threat to his own power. The magi choose to serve Christ; Herod chooses to serve himself.
The birth of Christ into our world confronted the powers that be with a crucial choice 2000 years ago, and that history changing event continues to confront the powers that be with the same choice today. This weekend, as we continue our celebration of Christ’s birth, the bishops of the United States are gathered in Mundelein, Illinois, to reflect on that choice in their leadership of the Church. At the request of Pope Francis, prompted by the most recent revelations of the terrible scope of the Church’s child abuse crisis in our country, they have gathered under the shadow of the fact that so many bishops in the past made the choice of Herod, arrogantly choosing to protect themselves and their position rather than to protect children. But the Epiphany story reminds us of why Christ was born to drive away the shadows and lead the world into a new dawn of peace, healing, and wholeness that only Christ can bring, all of which the Church so desperately needs in our time. Let us pray that the light of Christ that led the magi to their humble act of faithful service might enlighten the minds and hearts of our bishops and lead them to make the same choice. May they set aside any misguided desire for power or prestige and renew the commitment that they made at their ordination to offer their gifts, their ministry, even their lives in the service of Christ, who alone can lead us through this present darkness to a new and brighter future.
Fr. Marc Stockton