Epiphany – feast of inclusivity

This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany. It is traditionally a time when, in some parts of the Church, presents are given. (In fact, you might as a family want to create a tradition where you focus on the religious nature of Christmas at Christmas time. Then parents can take advantage of the Christmas sales and gifts can be shared along with the Magi. Epiphany could be the feast to focus on gift-giving and opening of presents?)

But there’s something more important happening at this time. This feast is all about inclusion. Notice how Jesus, even as a baby, attracts people – all people, different people, from lowly shepherds to mighty kings – and they gather together to worship and adore him. The inclusiveness of what will become Christianity is present at the very beginning. We need to remind ourselves of that when we are tempted to become exclusive or elite; when we try to close doors rather than open them; when we build walls instead of bridges.

A close reading of the Gospel text reveals two emotions at play. Wisdom and fear. Wisdom is described through the Magi, as patient attention to the world and its natural phenomena – perhaps we might call this science – but also listening to dreams and God – what we might call faith. Their faith motivates them to journey towards Jesus, who is the Son of God, and as St John tells us, is the Word of Wisdom or truth made flesh.

But we also see how fear causes Herod to lie and then protect his own power and authority which he perceives is threatened. Herod responds by becoming violent and despotic. How often might we react in the same way? Fear is the enemy of the Christian faith. Remember how often in the Bible when God makes an appearance, an angel or messenger says, “Do not be afraid”. Fear is the enemy of truth. It is the enemy of wisdom. It is the enemy of knowing and recognizing God.

When we are with God, we are complete, and most ourselves. Perhaps the journeying of the Magi was to fill that restlessness in their souls. They realized they were missing something and went in search of it. When we fear, we become unlike ourselves. We do things we regret, sometimes even being violent too.

Fear is often at play when we encounter foreigners. Sadly it is at the root of xenophobic violence. Notice how Jesus calls these foreigners to be the ones precisely who point to the Messiah. They are the outsiders, and yet they know something valuable if only we would listen. In their journey towards Jesus, they leave their comforts and familiar places and people to find something, someone new.

They have never met Jesus, but they understand that their lives are not complete without finding the source of wisdom and truth.

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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