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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.