Epiphany, the story of the Reyes Magos, reminds us that the divine presents itself in unexpected, even offensive places. It reminds us the work of God centers those at the margins: Jesus was born into a vulnerable socio-political reality and lived his life as a fragrance of freedom to the disenfranchised. Good news of great joy was announced to the worker and the revelation of the new King and liberator was given to outsiders.
Thank God for the offensive and liberating message of Jesus! Think for a moment not only about the people in the story, but about the people hearing this story for centuries before us. The subversive nature of the narrative is who gets to know about the Messiah; women, shepherds, and now foreigners are the ones to whom the mystery is revealed. Beauty is given to those who are socially marginalized.
The “wise men”, who are given the invitation to seek out the King, are not Jewish priests or spiritual leaders from within the community. These Persian priest astrologers have no preconceived notions of the Messiah, no inculturated boxes in which to restrain him. They are open to the mystery while the religious establishment declines the liberator because their answers are so secure they have no room to worship the deliverer.
The star-gazing and worship of the magi ended up in a wakeup call. They found the “king” they’d been searching for in a vulnerable context. King Herod and the religious establishment were troubled and afraid of this birth that had been prophesied. The Magi did not know the political situation and due to their asking questions, they unknowingly set into motion a sinister plan by Herod which would end in genocide and the Holy family in exile.
The irony is that the “wise” men appear to be oblivious to what is happening around them. In their pursuit to worship King Jesus they miss the actual social context of their worship. If they had more socio-political humility they could have found Jesus and returned to their land without the carnage. They alerted Herod who called the religious leaders to plot against Jesus in order to cling onto power. Jesus is able to flee, but all families of the young boys under two years old endure violence and trauma because of the insecurity and evil of the men who had to stay at the center. They were complicit in the injustice, in their attempt to worship along with the Jewish religious leaders. The pursuit of worship, without discernment, can lead to complicity in the injustices of our world.
Sometimes we too can be oblivious in our worship. We center our experience in worship and miss the social reality around us. In The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton says,
“Worship is the dangerous act of waking up to God and God’s purposes in the world.”
Wise worship awakens and liberates us. Liberated worship acknowledges that the context, time and place of our worship matters.
Last Epiphany, January 6th, 2021, we witnessed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. We saw people violently clinging onto power in fear. We witnessed harm on human bodies in the name of God. We witnessed prayers to Jesus in the name of white supremacy. Many were awakened to how committed some Christians were to this narrative of Christian Nationalism. This left us hungering for a form of faith that could sustain the lament and anger of what was being done in the name of Jesus.
Since then, many of us have been liberated from expressions of worship that seek to drown out the pain of the world and center the individual. We have sought to reimagine and reform our faith in community. As we start this new year and celebrate Epiphany, let’s consider how we might experience the divine in unexpected places. Let’s imagine how we might worship our King in 2022.
- How can we practice worship that centers the most vulnerable?
- Who are the “wise” people with whom you are on this journey?
- What step can you take with your time, energy, and resources?