This week we celebrate Epiphany, and next week the baptism of Jesus. What do these events say to our souls? How is God’s love transforming us as we meditate on these events?
Epiphany is the celebration of the wise men who came to honor Jesus. They likely came from Babylon, or what is modern day Iraq—the people who had invaded Israel and held the Jews captive. The prophet Jeremiah instructed the embittered Jews who were exiled in Babylon and held against their will:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Jeremiah 29:4 – 7
Bless our Enemies?
At least a few Jews must have heeded God’s instruction to bless their enemies, and at least a few Babylonians must have received it. Or perhaps its message was delivered reluctantly, like Jonah’s message to the Ninevites, but delivered nonetheless. Either way, we must conclude that these stories were internalized by a small minority of Babylonians and passed down from generation to generation. They eventually found their way into the hearts of the wise men who responded. Like salmon returning upstream to the place that gave them life, the magi found their way to Jesus.
Herod internalized a different story. Herod was threatened by Jesus’s arrival and tried to enlist the magi in his plot to kill Jesus. Herod was not simply an insecure puppet king. He was an Edomite, a descendant from the line of Esau. Esau had a brother named Jacob, whom he despised. Jesus descended from Jacob. The bitter quarrel between Esau and Jacob was passed down from generation to generation. Herod must have internalized the enmity between the brothers in the same way that the wise men internalized the blessing.
Blessing and curse—which stories do we internalize? What legacy do we pass on? In the next weeks we confront the voices that have shaped us—voices of blessing and curse.
Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Death and Ressurrection of All
Baptism—our bath—is the burial of the curse and the rising of the blessing. Our false self is formed in curse and our true self is formed in blessing. In this sense, baptism is the death of all that isn’t and the resurrection of all that is.
In reflecting on Jesus’ baptism, Paul said,
Therefore we [the false self] have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we [the true self] too might walk in newness of life.
And again Paul says,
For we [the false self] have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life is revealed, then we [the true self] also will be revealed with him in glory.
This is why Epiphany and Baptism are closely linked. In light of Epiphany, we remember our baptismal vows. We renounce the deceiver and the fear and death that are his ways. We renounce the curses of those who harm us and accept the blessings of the One who loves us. All that is false is buried with Christ, so that all that is true will rise with Christ in the unending love, grace and mercy of our God.