Seeing Baby Jesus

We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. –Archbishop Oscar Romero, December 24, 1979

Today Christians around the world celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. Our Spanish-speaking friends call it “El Dia de Reyes” or “Three Kings Day.” Whatever you call it or however you celebrate it, the intent of the day is to celebrate the “manifestation” or appearance of Christ to all nations.

Many of you will be familiar with the Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Perhaps this beloved song conjures up images of bathrobe clad children parading up church aisles during the traditional retelling of the birth narrative. A few of you may associate it more with Patti’s Smith’s haunting rendition (Thanks, David Lose, for the reminder!) of this mid-nineteenth century hymn by the Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

But the celebration of Epiphany is more than just three Kings, bathrobes, and a hymn. Think of the word itself–epiphany. In the Greek, ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, means a “manifestation or striking realization.” I’m wondering how many 21st century folks experience epiphanies of faith.

Is Jesus simply a little china figurine to be brought out at Christmas and packed securely away after the twelve days are over? Is this “sweet little baby child” much easier for us to palate and manage? After all, if we can put him in a box or on a shelf at will, we aren’t faced with uncomfortable truths and niggling nudges to move out of our comfort zones.

Or, do we even see him at all? The foreign wise folk  saw him, but the religious leaders did not. The shepherds saw him, but Herod could not. Can we see Jesus today? Do we look in the right places? Is he a picture we grew up seeing on the Sunday school wall, or can he be seen as Oscar Romero states “among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat”?

The Herods of our day–the powers and principalities, the culture and media–seem not to see him. I suspect they don’t want us to see him either, because seeing Jesus leads one to do strange things such as leave home and country bearing gifts or leaving the security of jobs and secure lives to follow him in the wilderness of our world. Seeing Jesus–experiencing an epiphany of faith–is a life-changing experience, one that is often unsettling and even fearful. Seeing Jesus leads to a changed world.

The good news is that Jesus is there whether we “see” him or acknowledge him or choose not to do so. The Creator of the cosmos is active and on the loose in the world, working on restoring, fixing and fitting together all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe and inviting us to join the party.

Look for the light. Open yourself to epiphanies of faith. Bring your gifts to serve and honor the One who conquers the dark. You are welcome with the wise, the marginalized, the foolish, and faithful; there’s room for everyone.

Blessings on the journey.

Here’s a lovely version of the hymn “Christ, Be Our Light” by Bernadette Farrell. It’s a wonderful hymn–not only for Epiphany but for every day.

Photo by FeedMyStarvingChildren. Thanks!

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