Epiphany, 2022

For Sunday, January 9, 2022 –Scripture, guided meditation, and an imaginative magi story by Herbert O’Driscoll.

Matthew 2: 1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

GUIDED MEDITATION

Relax your muscles from your toes up your legs to your stomach, breathing in God’s light, love, strength, and healing power, and surrounding yourself during your exhales with that same light, love, strength and healing power.  Then relax from your shoulders down to your fingers, again breathing in God’s gifts, but this time breathing out and handing over to God your burdens, cares, worries, and responsibilities.  Thirdly, relax from your neck up through your jaw, mouth, eyes, and forehead, breathing in God’s presence and breathing out things of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Imagine that you are traveling with the magi, at night, swaying on some animal – camel, donkey, or horse – and watching the stars in the night sky.  There is an especially bright star that seems to be traveling westward.  Your group follows that star.      What do you hear – wind, camel bells, animal footsteps, murmured voices?

What do you see – stars, sand, rocky soil, an oasis?

What do you feel – wind, rough animal hide, saddles, or blankets?

What do you taste – remnants of your last meal, a piece of bread you’ve saved to snack on, something else in the air?

What do you smell – animal smells, desert air?

Now imagine you have come to the town and to the house where the star seems to have stopped.  Go in.  See the family – mother, father, child.  Some sense of awe makes all of you fall to your knees.  Some sense of urgency makes the magi open their treasure chests and give gifts.  Perhaps you get to hold the baby, lift it to your cheek, give it a kiss.  Imagine how time seems to stand still as you kneel there.  Perhaps you speak with the mother and father before leaving.

In the morning, you still have a sense of awe and wonder at the visit with the child and the family, but you decide to travel back home, by a different route.  You feel changed somehow.  What are your five senses noticing now?  How do your emotions feel?  What has changed for you?

Speak in your imagination with some comforting image of God – God the Father, God the Mother, Jesus, Holy Spirit as a friend.  Ask your God image anything that is on your heart and mind right now.  Wait for any answers, ideas, memories, or pictures to come.  Or simply sit quietly in the presence of God for a few moments.   When you are ready, open your eyes and become present in your room again.

You might want to write down your experience and thoughts.

The Star (from A Greening of Imagination, Herbert O’Driscoll)

  • A reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

When distinguished figures from a remote foreign power arrived in a regime ruled by a paranoid despot, there was immediate suspicion.  This suspicion was made even more potent when the strangers offered astronomical and astrological evidence for the birth of a child who could become a possible threat to the despot.  A memory of the experience recalled by one of the visitors in later years…

“The compound where he worked before retirement was situated atop a high mountain ridge in the western part of the kingdom.  In the distance on a clear day, one could see the great gulf that is fed from the north by the Tigris and the Euphrates.  Beyond the gulf to the west, the vast desert stretches to the edge of Egypt.  For centuries Egypt had been their enemy.

The view most significant for his work had always been that of the night skies.  As scientists, he and his two colleagues studied the constellations, then consulted the tables and records kept over the centuries.  They assigned meaning to their movements and reported to the palace authorities.  They reported to the king.

The memory that would stay forever in his mind began with a report that two of the greatest planets, Saturn and Jupiter, seemed to be converging in the constellation we call Pisces or “the Fish.”  Their light began to grow brighter until they came to dominate the heavens, so much so that after consulting with their senior staff, a report was made to the palace.

As he recalled, it had an immediate response.  Among their observations was the fact that the convergence seemed to be moving in a westerly direction.  Orders came to them to select a small group of their staff to travel westward, in order to continue studying the phenomenon.  They would be given an escort.  Their route would take them north along the east bank of the Euphrates.  At a certain point, they would cross the river to join the Roman highway system at Dura Europos, the most Eastern outpost and garrison of the Roman Empire.  There the escort would leave them.  From there on, they would have to make their own decisions.

They had very specific orders.  They were to look for any signs of political or military disturbance on the eastern edge of the Roman Empire or in the vicinity of Egypt, both of which could be a threat to imperial interests in Persia.  In case they might find themselves in any diplomatic encounters, they were directed to take with them some symbolic and exotic gifts that would suitably impress their hosts.  The memory he treasured all his life was not the journey, but its destination.

All went well until they arrived in southern Palestine.  Its puppet king retained power only with the support of the Roman occupiers.  By the time the three paid their respects to him, they knew that the regime was utterly corrupt and cordially hated by the local people.

He remembered night falling as they left Herod.  At the end of the great circular driveway that led to Herod’s fortress, they found a young man who approached them saying that someone wished to meet with the three visitors, and that he would guide them to the rendezvous.  It was a very difficult decision to make, because he knew that it could well be a trap.  He questioned the youth carefully before deciding to accept the invitation.

He remembered that they approached a small village under a starlit sky.  He estimated they were now about four miles from Herod’s fortress. To his knowledge, the were not being followed.

The house that welcomed them was that of the village rabbi.  After the customary gestures of welcome and an offer of refreshment, which the three accepted, the rabbi introduced his wife and told them that their guide had been his son.

When the had partaken of a simple but delicious meal, the host gestured them to follow the family to the back of the house.  They watched in astonishment as he removed a section of the earthen floor and beckoned them down a simple ladder.  A whole living area had been hollowed out and furnished.  A young woman sat holding a child.  He would estimate the child to be about two years old.  Her husband stood behind them, he somewhat older than she.

He didn’t know why or how, but suddenly he knew with absolute certainty that they had found what they had come for.  He also knew that they had not discovered what their political masters had sent them here to find.  Instead, he had an overpowering conviction that a higher power had directed them to something infinitely more significant.

He had been at the shrines of countless gods, both those of their own Persian empire and those of Rome, but nothing had ever addressed him with the power of that moment.  All he could say is that in the presence of an ineffable majesty, they found themselves on their knees.

It was Melchior who remembered the gifts.  They still had them in their baggage, because they had encountered no powerful ruler worthy of them.  Here in this lamplit room with its earthen walls, they could only hope that these gifts would be found worthy of this child.  When they had presented the gifts, the rabbi beckoned them to leave.

It was the rabbi who told them everything.  They found that he shared with them the common commercial language of the east, Aramaic.  Quietly he told them of the boy’s birth, how the skies had sung.  They told him of their sightings among the planets.  He was not surprised.  He told them too of the great fear of Herod’s death squads.  For two years he and many others had protected the child, moving the family from house to house, sometimes hiding them in the vast cave system in the walls of the escarpment near the village.  They asked him the name of the place.  He replied that the village was called Bethlehem.  Since time immemorial the name meant “House of Bread.”

At that point, the rabbi’s voice because anxious.  He feared that time was running out.  Herod’s fear and paranoia made him persistent.  The family needed to get away.  At this point he asked for the three visitors’ help.  He felt their coming had been providential.  Would they at least escort the refugees to the border with Egypt?

There was never a moment’s doubt.  Preparations had already been made for such an opportunity as this.  Long before dawn, they had moved away from the vast bulk of Herod’s fortress and were heading west for the coastal road – the Way of the Sea.  From the Egyptian border, when farewells had been said, they would eventually turn east toward the Dead Sea, then north on the other great road – the Way of the Kings – pursing their long journey home.

At some point on that return trip, they agreed on their report.  They had found no kings plotting against Persia, no armies marching from Egypt, no military maneuvers along the Roman border.  Only the three colleagues would every know that a king greater than all kings was now growing to manhood on the earth.”

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