Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gollum, Herod, Satan and the Feast of the Epiphany

St. Matthew tells us that when the star came to rest over the house where Jesus was, the Magi were overjoyed. They entered, saw the child with Mary, His Mother, prostrated themselves, gave homage, and offered their treasures.  Yes, the Magi experienced "overjoy." They saw, prostrated, gave homage,  and offered.  There is something so pure and beautiful about this scene. Imagine, they had travelled all of this way and were met not by a choir of angels--as were the shepherds--but by the familiar scene of a child in the arms of his mother.  The Magi were not disappointed by the simplicity of their discovery. It moved them to their depths, causing them to fall down and worship and to offer their treasures. The Magi were able to be overjoyed because they were humble. They were men who sought the truth and worshipped the Truth and recognized that they were not masters of the truth but rather servants of the truth. It was humility which caused them to leave one place and to go to another. It was humility that caused them to pause at Herod's palace and seek the counsel of others. 

And what of Herod? Was not the same star visible to him? When he heard of this news, could he not have followed the star himself and gone with the Magi in search of this new king? No, Herod instead sends others on his errands. He is content to let others go and search while he rules over his petty kingdom. There is, I think, a similarity between Herod and the Devil. Recall later in St. Matthew's Gospel, when the Devil tempts Jesus and takes him to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the earth. He promises Jesus all that is below. The Devil can only look down. He refuses to look up and see God. Similarly, Herod can only look down and see his small kingdom.  If only he would have looked up, he too would have been rewarded with the vision of the star. But, he was trapped in his own small world.

Herod reminds me of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. Possession of the ring and its power caused him to become a distorted and pathetic creature. Instead of contributing to his happiness, it destroyed him and was the source of violence and suffering to many others. 

There is a little Herod in all of us. And, like a little poison, a little Herod can do a lot of harm. We too can be trapped in our petty kingdoms. Have you ever met someone who is obsessed with money? They always think that everyone is trying to steal from them, charge them too much, or pull one over on them. Because that is how they treat everyone else, that's how they think everyone else is. Or the person who is envious experiences sadness when others do well. Or the person who is obsessed with pleasure thinks that everyone else is living in that same perverted world. Or the person who is obsessed with power thinks that everyone else is a threat to their power.  Whether it's our power, our pleasures, our kid's sports teams, our careers, our money, our entertainment, our hobbies, our grades, or even our relationships, all of us have our kingdoms. These are not bad things, but, when they dominate our field of vision, become our gods, and enslave us, they can make us incapable of doing what is most noble in our nature. They hinder us from looking up, from being overjoyed, from seeing, prostrating, and offering. 

Herod refused to go out from himself and his petty kingdom. He refused to look up, to look beyond himself and the things of this world. Herod placed his confidence in his power and in his politics. His confidence was misplaced. No earthly power, no political alliance, no political leader, no promotion, no possession, no pleasure, no position, no anything that the Devil promises us as he takes us to the heights and points below will bring us true and lasting joy. 

True and lasting joy is found only in those who are willing to humble themselves, look beyond the world below, and follow the Divine light of Faith. Herod stayed at home and guarded viciously the absurdity that his life had become. The Magi humbly followed. They looked up. They found God in the arms of His Mother. They worshipped and opened themselves. 

The Feast of the Epiphany presents to us two paths. It points out the path of Herod which is the path of Satan. It is the path that leads one into the depths of Hell, a life that is closed in on itself, going from one level of self-centered pettiness to the next, causing all manner of warped and distorted behavior. The other is the path of Faith. It is the path of humility that leads one from pettiness to grandeur. It leads one to the house of God where God is discovered in the arms of the Virgin. It leads one to fall down before the Majesty of God and to open one's whole life before Him. 

As we consider our own lives, perhaps all of us can identify the kingdoms that have been shown to us by the Devil.  Much like the ring in the Lord of the Rings, these kingdoms can become an obsession for us, causing us to lose our way and, under the guise of a false happiness, can drag us into the abyss. The grace of Epiphany can awaken in all of us the memory of what has been given to us. We too have seen His star. We too can look up again and allow the light of Faith to lead us to the Kingdom that lasts forever. The grace of Epiphany draws us away from our earthly kingdoms and gives us the great joy of worshipping the One who alone is worthy. The grace of Epiphany moves us to offer all we have to the Kingdom that never will pass away, the Kingdom that is found in the arms of the Blessed Virgin, Jesus Christ, the Lord.

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