In yesterday’s DM we discussed seven elements to the Epiphany story that seem useful to awaken our imaginations today about what it means to be human no matter what our spiritual lineage.  Today we address three more.

Innocence of childhood. Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Adultism or the repression of the child in adults who seek power and envy of the young is bypassed.  Instead, keep alive the puer and puella in you, that is to say, the mystic, the intuitive side of your brain, your joy and capacity for wonder and awe that children harbor.

Evil is spoken of bluntly—just as the baby Moses was hidden from Pharaoh, so the baby Jesus is whisked away to Egypt to escape Herod who wants to kill him and in frustration Herod murders innocent baby boys in his kingdom.  A hint of the imperial motives behind the crucifixion event.

The Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. Painting from the Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, France. Photo by Lawrence OP on Flickr.

Biblical scholar Raymond Brown points out that this infancy narrative is a kind of “gospel in miniature,” a good news story that has “a passion and rejection, as well as success” within it.

The story of the magi up until the Reformation times of the sixteenth century was a more popular way to talk about Christmas than was the story of the shepherds in Luke’s gospel.  It also was much more popular for business!  That is to say, relics pertaining to the “three kings” have a long and storied history and relics represented power and profit—a good relic went a long way.  In the Roman catacombs the magi appear in the second century but the shepherds appear in the fourth century “as subsidiary to the magi.” 

Says Raymond Brown:

If interest in relics is taken as a gauge, there is simply no contest between the angels and the shepherds.  Indeed, the corporeal relics of the magi traveled on a grander scale than their original owners, to the point that in the twentieth century the relics were still traveling and even going back to their earlier home ‘by another route.’ 

Reliquary of the Three Kings, Cologne Cathedral, Germany. Photo by Arminia on Wikimedia Commons.

In 490 the emperor Zeno brought the relics from Persia to Constantinople.  They also appeared in Milan and from there in Cologne in 1162 “as part of the booty dispersed by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who had ravaged Italy.”  By calling relics “booty,” Brown is reminding us of the economic and business dimensions inherent in the relic business.  Supposedly the bodies of the three kings were uncorrupted and they remain today in Cologne. 

Shepherd on the hills of Beit Sahour, West Bank, 2007. Photo by Clare Jim on Flickr.

The Protestant reformation, understandably sensitive to relic adoration and to the economics behind it and the corruption wrapped into it, chose the simplicity of the shepherd story to the business of relics of the magi to remember the birth of Jesus.

Brown calls the magi story “a remarkable example of Christian midrash,” defining midrash as “the popular and imaginative exposition of the Scriptures for faith and piety.”  I see it as the tapping into imagination and therefore potential archetypes of the universal mind that underscores human story-telling. 

To be continued

See Raymond Brown, S.S., The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke (NY: Doubleday & Co., 1977), pp. 197f.

See Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, pp. 188-198.

Banner Image: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Antonio Balestra (1707). From the Church of San Zaccaria, in the Web Gallery of Art, on Wikimedia Commons.

What lessons do you draw from the Epiphany stories told here? Do you recognize how the economic dimension to Christmas stories recounted here still plays a role in today’s versions of Christmas, whether secular or religious? It seems the shadow is always with us.

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

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2 thoughts on “The Feast of Epiphany 2021, Part II”

  1. Avatar

    “… Just as the baby Moses was hidden from Pharaoh, so the baby Jesus is whisked away to Egypt to escape Herod who wants to kill him and in frustration Herod murders innocent baby boys in his kingdom. A hint of the imperial motives behind the crucifixion event.”

    In recent years, I have come to consider how the story of Jesus’ ‘salvation’ as a young toddler at the cost of a number of other innocent young boys, must have been told to him as he was growing up. It is obvious he knew the story of Moses being ‘saved’ as a baby, why would he not also come to know — through story — how he, himself was ‘saved’ from death? That the Scripture writers included these stories in their ‘stories of salvation,’ surely tells us how well-known each one of these stories was.

    I have considered how the story of Jesus’ own spared life at the cost of martyrdom of others, must have surely affected him in a very deep, significant manner. Would he not have grown up feeling as though he ‘owed’ ‘something’ more of his life because of this event happening in his life? Would he not have wondered – perhaps even in prayer – why G O D would have such a cruel thing happen to others, so totally innocent, in order to spare his own life? Did he come to a maturity at a very young age in seeing how ‘life’ is all about giving of yourself for the ‘life’ of others? Did such pondering and wondering – and deep, thoughtful prayer – move him to see — and accept — that he had a mission to fulfill in the giving of his own self and life for the ‘life’ of others?

    As I contemplate this story in this way, I am left to ask why we have never been allowed or encouraged to meditate on the gospel this way? Why have we let others turn off our sacred and holy gifts of religious – and prayerful – imagination? How and why have we not been encourage and inspired to think of Jesus as he was growing up, and how the events of his own life experiences and encounters surely affected him, and shaped him into becoming the p/Person that he ultimately became?

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you so much Linda, for your thoughtful and insightful comments on “religious – and prayerful- imagination.” We would all do well to heed your advise on this!

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