Epiphany 2014

Adoration of the Magi

Epiphany dawns cold and grey here in England. There is a ‘Constable sky’ overhead, entirely lacking stars or sunlight. It is a useful paradigm of our search for truth and meaning. We would like everything to be either as plain as day, illumined by dazzling sunshine, or enveloped in shimmering mystery into which we could plunge deeper and deeper without ever finding an end. Instead, we spend most of our lives plodding through the drabness of the cold grey dawn, often stumbling over Truth without realising it or battling against God rather than surrendering to him. I suspect that the Magi’s own journey was rather like that: dull, tiring, full of wrong turns, seemingly hopeless at times.

But we know that the Magi are eventually led to the Child they are seeking and lay their treasures before him. We too must bring our gifts — the gold of generosity, the frankincense of prayer, the myrrh of service — and lay them before our Lord and Saviour. However dull the day, however out of sorts we may be feeling, we know we are confronting a great mystery. Today the gentiles are admitted into the family of God, and the Church heightens our sense of this by commemorating three great miracles or signs: the Magi are led by a star, Christ is baptized in the Jordan and water is turned into wine at the wedding-feast of Cana. In other words, today salvation has come to us all. How can we be gloomy knowing that?

Note on the illustration:
Andrea Mantegna (Italian (Paduan), about 1431 – 1506)
Adoration of the Magi, about 1495 – 1505, Distemper on linen. 
Unframed: 48.6 x 65.6 cm (19 1/8 x 25 13/16 in.)
 Framed: 71.8 x 86.8 x 3.5 cm (28 1/4 x 34 3/16 x 1 3/8 in.) Stretcher: 54.6 x 69.2 cm (21 1/2 x 27 3/8 in.)
 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Used by permission under the Open Content programme — with thanks.

Personal note:
I’m scheduled to have some surgery this week and will be taking time for convalescence afterwards, so blogging is likely to be irregular for a while. I’m sorry, but I can’t enter into any personal correspondence at this time so please don’t take it amiss if I don’t respond to emails or messages.


Epiphany Sunday 2012

I wrote about the history of this feast and the Magi’s quest for truth last year: the entry is here. This morning I should like to spend a moment or two thinking about the new figures at the crib. The Magi, who have been moving round the oratory with a little help from Quietnun, have finally reached their destination, hobbled their camels and opened their treasures. Our crib figures come from southern France, so there ought to be a few more local characters joining the throng. The garlic seller is there, with his bulbs of garlic strung around his neck: a pretty offering for the new-born Jesus. Right at the back stands one without a gift. Barthélémy is so poor he has nothing to give, so he brings his joy and offers that.

We all stand before God with empty hands. The treasures we offer must be found within ourselves. It may well be that we cannot find the gold of generosity, the frankincense of prayer or the myrrh of service in our lives, but if, like Barthélémy we can find traces of joy and gladness, let us offer those. ‘God loves a cheerful giver,’ and never more so than when the gift we give is ourself.

Happy Epiphany!