“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)
I seem to forget each year what Epiphany is in the church year. So I look it up, and each year say, “Oh yes, I remember now!” And suddenly the designated passages make total sense! It is the Magi – the wise men – coming to find baby Jesus that represents the coming of Jesus to the Gentiles. In the ordinary world it means the realization or revelation or experience of a tremendous thing. (I will come back to that definition a little later.)
I want to note briefly in passing that this passage from Isaiah does not refer in its content to the birth of Jesus. In fact it is a message of hope and rescue for the people of Jerusalem. The Revised Common Lectionary puts it into service for the season of Epiphany. As you move through the verses, it seems to be applicable more and more to the baby Jesus, and the coming of the Magi.
I remember one year – don’t know if it was when I was a child or as an adult – I placed the wise men and the camels a good distance away from the nativity scene of Joseph, Mary, the sheep, and baby Jesus. Each day during Christmas I moved them a little closer until they arrived at the stable and the manger. I felt quite tickled with my plan. I think about that often. I think that is the reason also I take a long time to put away Christmas decorations, and leave until last the putting away of the nativity scene; the Magi were late to the Christmas “party” and I feel that the traditions of Christmas should reflect that. The twelve days of Christmas, actually, take into account the period of time between Jesus’ birth and the coming of the Magi.
Most of the time the Magi are ushered into the Christmas story relatively soon after Jesus was born. Some biblical literature reflects the idea that it was some days after the birth of Jesus that they arrived. And . . . some more modern literature poses the idea that it might not just been male Magi royalty.
I was introduced, some years ago, to a Epiphany poem entitled “The Queens Came Late”. It gives a different perspective, a feminist one, to the coming of Gentile royalty to the infant child. And through its inventive prose opens even wider the idea that Jesus came for all of humanity.
The Queens Came Late
The Queens came late, but the Queens were there
With gifts in their hands and crowns in their hair.
They’d come, these three, like the Kings, from far,
Following, yes, that guiding star.
They’d left their ladles, linens, looms,
Their children playing in nursery rooms,
And told their sitters:
“Take charge! For this
Is a marvelous sight we must not miss!”
The Queens came late, but not too late
To see the animals small and great,
Feathered and furred, domestic and wild,
Gathered to gaze at a mother and child.
And rather than frankincense and myrrh
And gold for the babe, they brought for her
Who held him, a homespun gown of blue,
And chicken soup–with noodles, too-
And a lingering, lasting, cradle-song.
The Queens came late and stayed not long,
For their thoughts already were straining far-
Past manger and mother and guiding star
And a child aglow as a morning sun-
Toward home and children and chores undone.
[-Norma Farber in When It Snowed That Night ]
Epiphany . . . an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation. [quoted from Wikipedia]
May you, beloved reader, discover new things and be open to new learning in this life . . . wherever you may find them. Selah!