What is joined in consciousness is separated in physical reality. And what is joined in consciousness is separated in stories to communicate meaning. The reality of Christ, deﬁnitive presence of God-in-man, is the truth of humanity. We celebrate this reality in every Eucharist. But for the sake of our limited understanding, what is truly one is separated into parts. And so at Christmastide, the mystery of God in us, of incarnation, is separated into the birth of Jesus Christ, and then the Epiphany of Christ to the Gentiles, symbolized in the traveling Magi. Even children can appreciate the parts; our adult task is to bring the parts back together in the truth of consciousness and action.
You may have noticed over the years that the evangelist Luke has no need for the feast of the Epiphany, because he has the equivalent experience take place in the scene he sets for Jesus’ birth. No Magi or astrologers are mentioned coming to see what God has done for humankind, but lowly shepherds, the “poorest of the poor,” representing all those who are open to what God is doing here and now, with minds not limited to beliefs about past events. The shepherds live in the present of God, under God, and so are moved by God to ﬁnd His Presence in the new-born Christ. Open to God, we behold God by faith. The evangelist Matthew has a different tale to tell, and wants to emphasize that Christ has come for all peoples (as the angels announce in Luke’s Gospel), and so has the Gentiles represented by three men, attuned to heavenly signs, journeying from the East. That the Magi recognize the divine Presence in the baby Jesus is artfully symbolized by their gifts, as described in our familiar Christmas carol: incense pointing to divinity present; gold witnessing to the true ruler of humankind; myrrh foreshadowing the saving death of Christ for all.
From beautiful stories and rich symbolic meanings one needs to return again and again to the truth of spiritual experience. For our foremost goal is not to tell stories or even to think about their meaning, but to grow into a deeper and lasting union with the God present to the consciousness of every human being open to receive him. Genuine openness is a demanding spiritual work, requiring prayer, study, recollection, action, love. That many refuse God’s gift of presence is symbolized by Matthew’s bloody story of the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem, ordered by the wicked Herod, a shrunken soul jealous for his own power. We may have obstacles in our hearts and lives that prevent us from living in the presence of the presence of God. And so our task includes reﬂecting on habitual and actual ways in which we fail to respond wholeheartedly, or let our awareness of God shining into our minds be obscured by the smoke of worldly preoccupations. The task of openness to the divine light shining into consciousness is endless.
The reality of Epiphany is now—for you, for me. Our Christian and human duty is to enkindle in our hearts a ﬂame of the ﬁre of God’s love, which means allowing his love to ﬂood in. What good is it for us to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, as we did on Christmas, and refuse to live in the light shining in? If God is not here, then where could he be sought? The stable and the manger in Bethlehem are gone, or just rebuilt monuments to what God has done. But God is here and now; living in his light, love, peace is indeed the constant gift and burden of our lives.
Blessed New Year to each and to all.