Sunday, January 7, 2018

Epiphany: Do Not Return to Herod

Oftentimes when I  preach, I catch myself saying things like, "This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible."  I say it a lot, but it's true every time! Similarly, there are a lot of feast days in the Church that I really love or think, "Yeah, this is one of my favorites."  This week, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, and I have to say that it is definitely at the top of my list. I love the Epiphany.  There is just so much that one could preach on for Epiphany! There are so many beautiful points of reflection on the Gospel for Epiphany. There's the star, the Magi, Herod, the gifts, the Holy Family, adoration, allusions to the Lord's future suffering, joy, Faith, searching, being led, obedience . . . !  What a great Feast! This year, I did not preach on the Epiphany, but I still like the chance to talk about it.

One line from the Epiphany Gospel often stands out to me. It is the very last line of the Gospel. "And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way." So often in our individual spiritual and moral lives we find ourselves feeling compelled to return to particular sins or situations.  Similarly, even in the life of the Church, we often find ourselves returning to the same old arguments with the same old adversaries. And, in our engagement of the culture, we find ourselves having the same discussions repeatedly, and constantly arriving at the same old stand-offs. We keep going back to Herod.  In many ways, the world itself feels trapped in a continuous loop of the same tired old debates, repeated continuously.

Epiphany and the Magi, however, invite us to do something totally new. They remind us that we do not have to return to Herod. When we encounter Christ, we find that a new way has opened; a new way of life is made possible. We are not compelled to go back to Herod and fight on his terms. We are free. The Magi encountered the Christ Child and discovered a new freedom. Going back to Herod was a trap! But they could go home by a different way. The encounter with Christ brings novelty and freshness. Into a tired, broken, and fallen world, Christ comes and opens up a new path. In encountering Christ, the Magi discovered a new way of life.

Today, many people experience an overwhelming compulsion to return to Herod. For some, they are dragged continuously back to relive the pain and the hurt of betrayals. No matter how many times they return to these memories, they lose to Herod. Some return to the lies that life is empty, without meaning, without hope. They return to the lie that they are not loved, not valuable, or that they have no future.  They too return to Herod and lose. Others return to the Herod of their addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography, pleasure etc. They think, "I will just go for a while. This time I will keep it under control." They lose to Herod.  Others know that the life of power and money makes them and their families constantly miserable, but they feel compelled to make power and riches their "temporary" goal until they "have enough."  They return to Herod, and Herod destroys them and their families.  

Others return to the same old debates. They go back to Herod to win an argument about Christianity, about morality, or about God. But, they lose to Herod. They lose because they are playing Herod's game. They are playing on his turf.  They are playing by Herod's rules. Herod expects them to return. 

Instead, Epiphany reveals to us that a new way has opened. Christ frees us to go home by a new path, a path of freedom and joy. We can now circumvent the decrepit and putrid palace of Herod. Epiphany allows a new and radiant light to guide us into a new way of living and a new way of engaging reality. The point of reference is no longer the palaces of power, pleasure, or prestige. The point of reference is Christ. He liberates us from the shackles of a tired world.

If you're reading this, I just want you to know that you do not need to return to Herod. You have encountered Christ and have been set free. Don't see yourself in reference to Herod. Don't think that your life is defined by Herod. Don't be deceived into thinking that you must beat Herod.  No, your life is defined by the One who is found laying in the manger in the arms of His Mother, Mary. A new light has shone on those who have dwelt in the shadow of Herod's palace. And this light has shown that Herod's palace is petty and pitiable.  Want a good New Year's resolution? Know yourself loved by the radiant light that has been born for us. See your life entirely in the light of Christ. And then, remain in the light by going home a different way.

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