I’ve long understood the Epiphany as the showing of Jesus (the proper word is “manifesting”) to the world. Through the miracle of the wedding at Cana and the calling of the first disciples, and especially through the witness of the Magi who would take the message back East, the Incarnation that has come to us is now spread to the world beyond our backyard.
Yet I’ve been reading Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World about the far-off and exotic lands between Europe and the Pacific that were, our cultural memory notwithstanding, the center of the world for much of known history. This is a work of history rather than church tradition, so Frankopan says nothing about magi and myrrh except to mention, of course, that spices and fragrances were economic engines of the times. But spending time reading about the world to the East has diminished for me a cherished idea that Jesus came to us and that we then shared him with the world, starting with our traveling friends who followed the star.
The eastward orientation of the Epiphany story tells us otherwise. Our worldview is rooted in the triumph of Western Christianity, yet the first witnesses came from the East and headed back in that direction. The three kings saw and knew the star for what it was; Herod feared the star and relied on the Magi to find it for them, while the Romans (from out West, I might add) were oblivious.
I like how this disrupts our Western orientation towards Bethlehem, and suggests that the terrain is less familiar than we might realize. I like how it suggests that Jesus was never “ours” to share, but rather drew in wisdom and reverence from the heart of places that didn’t show up in our history books. I like how that humbles us, and shows us that there is mystery and holiness in this world in places we’ve never heard of, and folk abiding in Jesus in ways that we too might someday learn.
St. Andrew’s will celebrate the Epiphany with a service of Holy Eucharist on Saturday, September 6 at 5:30 p.m. in the Chapel at 5:30 p.m., followed by fellowship (and King Cake!) in the Parish Hall.