Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

One of my favorite images of the Epiphany is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Every year, after Thanksgiving, they put up a Baroque crèche from Italy. As the visit of the Magi is arguably the most famous passage from the infancy narratives outside the Nativity itself, the three Wise Men are naturally featured prominently as they give their gifts to the newborn Jesus. The most striking thing about the image, however, comes not from what is happening, but from what is not happening.

The crèche completely surrounds a large Christmas tree in a main hall of the museum. The front area looks very much like a standard nativity scene, with humans and angels gathered around Jesus in adoration. But as you walk around the rest of the display in either direction, something interesting happens. By the time you walk halfway to the back, people are still vaguely aware that something has happened, and often are facing in the general direction of Jesus. But by the time you are at the back of the crèche, the people look like they are going about business as usual.

When we think of God’s epiphany (literally, a “shining upon,” or revelation), this might not be what we had in mind. However, God so often points out to us that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways” (Is. 55:8). How God reveals Himself to the world is not our call. St. Paul today calls himself the “steward of God’s grace”—the caretaker, not the master. The Magi’s response is likewise odd, as they give gifts more fit for the end of someone’s life than the beginning. As we begin the final week of the Christmas season, we would do well to think about how God shines upon us (in ways both expected and unexpected) as well as how we, like the Magi, may best respond to that epiphany.

January 5th, 2014