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Philip F. Reinders, in his book Seeking God’s Face, tells us Epiphany is “a moment of piercing awareness, the sudden jolt of understanding…stretched out over a period of time” (p.107).

I want that. Distracted and easily disappointed, I need to be jolted awake to what is most significant in my life. And maybe, because of the sleepiness of our hearts, our spiritual parents inserted into our Christian calendar a feast, The Feast of Epiphany, sometimes called, The Feast of Wise Men.

Every January, around the world, many believers celebrate the Epiphany until Lent, exploring the life of Jesus Christ from birth until just before his death. Mostly I’ve missed out on this. Typically, after Christmas day, I’m done and very grumpy and I wonder if folks who live in this rhythm have a better understanding and heart for the person and work of Christ than I do. I’m going to guess, yes.

Distracted and easily disappointed, I need to be jolted awake to what is most significant in my life

So, over the next few weeks, I thought I’d spend time in Matthew 2, praying to see Christ afresh. Not boxing day sales and the January blahs, but a resolve to contemplate and live in the wonder of our God who took on the most vulnerable version of human flesh possible so we might see and know him. I want to search like wisemen and shepherds for the person of Jesus Christ, looking through the scriptures and beholding his life on earth so I might become aware of what is most important, Christ himself.

Because North America’s version of the Christmas season, the bright lights and snappy tunes, can not hide or drown out the pervasive darkness and deep groaning we experience as people living in a disconnected and heart broken world.

Humanity is completely perplexed and longs for epiphany. Our neighbours are crying out for meaning, something to make sense of a very corrupt, war torn, polarized, and lonely time. Something better than what we find in the news or on Tik Tok. Something better than bags of ripped wrapping paper, leftover dry turkey, and Christmas cake.

We can find that epiphany in Matthew chapter 2 where we read:

Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. (Matt 2:16)

Okay, I know. Pretty dark. Hear me out.

I want to search like wisemen and shepherds for the person of Jesus Christ, looking through the scriptures and beholding his life on earth so I might become aware of what is most important, Christ himself.

As a child, long before my family started going to church, I loved the lullaby Away in a Manger. I didn’t know who Jesus was but the part that says, “Be near me Lord Jesus I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray,”  was somehow something I wanted.

Now, at 53, I still love this song, however there may also be something about the absent way I sing this lullaby that doesn’t hit home – it’s too nice.

Because Jesus was away, as the carol tells us, he and his parents were forced far from home. And he was born in straw where maggots creep and animals relieve themselves. And I’m certain baby Jesus cried and cried.

Maybe making the Christmas story only lovely and sweet actually keeps me from seeing the God who truly lived and grieved the worst this life has to offer and I might be most in danger of romanticising Christ’s birth when I quickly glance over, or entirely skip, Matthew 2:1-18.

God has intentionally included Matthew 2, with bloodthirsty, power starved Herod, this terrified family, and the many dead children, so that all who hear this story will know and testify: We need Jesus. Every one of us. We need him to save us. 

And reading the news this epiphany season we have to admit, our world now is not much different from Jesus’ world then.

The UN has recently reported that a quarter of humanity suffers in 55 different global conflicts. Fifty-five, I can maybe name four. The brutality and inhumanity of us is bleak and terrifying. Not only the inhumanity of horrible acts committed, but also of my own heart that either cries for blood out of a misguided sense of justice, or just refuses to cry at all.

But right here, right in the bloody mess of Matthew 2, we are given insight. We find a God who sees, knows, and experiences all the grief in our messy and messed up world. We see the God who did not insist on cleanliness and safety before entering into this human life, but rather entered struggling, even before his first breath out of Mary’s womb.

Perhaps Mary and Joseph wondered where their God was and if he’d ever do anything at all to ease their fear and suffering. How wild that their God was with them the entire time.

He lay with them in the filthy hay, cried as Mary clutched him to her breast while escaping Herod’s soldiers. Their God was living with them, under the oppression of occupying Rome, homeless and hungry, a refugee in Egypt. Their God was with them and misunderstood by his people, betrayed by friends, harassed by the authorities, arrested on false charges, beaten savagely by police, brutally murdered by the state.

Mary and Joseph’s God was with them in ways that were so hard to see or understand and his incredibly present suffering would save not only his parents, but the entire world.

Is it possible? Could it be? Is God also with you and I in ways we can not see or understand? Is he doing something in our suffering that is so good, so beautiful, if we knew it would we choose it for ourselves? Lord Jesus, give us an epiphany! We want to see and trust you.

Reading the harsh reality of Matthew 2 grows our faith so that we believe, even in suffering, God’s unflinching goodness will always meet us. We’ll better remember he’s the sovereign King over absolutely everything and we can trust him with the terrible things that just don’t make any sense.

He convinces our hearts and moves us so we share this Matthew 2 epiphany with our neighbour who waits for someone more than what this world can give. Someone who understands and hates wickedness, abuses of power, suffering, and death. Someone who weeps and empathizes with us and is also righteous and sovereign, working through what is evil and making something that is eternally good, even when we just don’t understand why this is happening.

Jesus, the God who is with us, is seen and known through terrible suffering and horrific events.