Nations against nations. Rulers abusing their power. Fear, uncertainty, even
despair taking hold in fragile hearts because of threats to safety abroad and at home.
The world into which Jesus was born was rife with many of the same problems our world faces today. Yet, the readings for the Epiphany of the Lord help us
understand that because of Jesus’ birth, there is more light than darkness, more hope than despair.
The humble appearance of Jesus’ birth — in a manger, apart from any comfort except the love of His earthly parents — is not a reflection of weakness or hopelessness in a troubled time. Quite the contrary: Jesus’ birth reflects power and dominion that are no less potent today than they were in the stable in Bethlehem.
The shepherds knew of this power. Jesus’ birth was heralded by a “heavenly host” of angels (Lk 2:13), which they witnessed while in their fields. No minor event could possibly be worthy of such pronouncement. They had to leave everything, go, see and worship.
The Magi also knew, and they traveled a great distance at serious peril to do homage to the Christ Child.
Even before the dream that instructed them to go home “by another way” (Mt 2:12), these Wise Men must have sensed Herod’s violence-prone jealousy when he dispatched them to Bethlehem. And they bowed to another, more powerful ruler — the babe in the manger — never betraying Him, but defying Herod’s order to tell him where the child lay. Close by, through all the visitors to the manger, Joseph stood watch and Mary “kept all these things” in her heart (Lk 2:19).
Theirs were not passive but very active acknowledgements of the glory God was revealing to them and others, and to the power exercised through their lives. First, Mary’s yes, and then Joseph’s obedience to heavenly instruction manifest how far God’s dominion extended beyond their understanding and own human will.
Beyond the stable in Bethlehem, others who did not yet know of Christ’s birth were living in the world, with worldly cares and worldly kings. Other shepherds, not blessed with angels’ song, were lifetime social outcasts. Other wise men not attuned to God’s call either never set out on the road to Bethlehem or perhaps they gave in to manipulation by persons in power with their own agendas and went astray. Outside the stable, kings like Herod could rule with unfettered violence, and no one could stop them. It was an utterly dark world, fraught with human injustices. But Jesus’ coming, full of love, light and the grace of salvation, changed their world.
And He continues to change ours, today. Then, as now, Jesus’ message of salvation rings true among all who will listen.
— Maureen Pratt, Catholic News Service
—Originally published in the Jan. 5-11, 2019, Inland See.