January 6 on the Christian calendar is the feast of Epiphany, the traditional Three Kings’ Day, which commemorates the coming of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus. The story is told in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2.
The feast is particularly poignant this year. This Christmas season has seemed extraordinarily lacking in joy, merriment, and good cheer. It is characterized instead by “wars and rumors of wars.” Palestinian Christians have declined to celebrate this Christmas. The war in Gaza continues its fury, killing multiple thousands of civilians. The war in Ukraine also grinds on towards its third year. Within my country, as in many others, divisions are high and violence threatens.
When the Magi arrive from the East to worship the newborn Jesus, they go first to Jerusalem, the center of power, to ask where to find the new king. They are told that the Christ was to be born in the town of Bethlehem. Herod, the current King, feels threatened and orders all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed. The coming of Jesus, the hope and savior of the word, is accompanied by the massacre of innocent babies. Hope and grief exist side by side.
Christmas is a traditional time of hope. But for many this year, hope is overwhelmed by grief, mothers “weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18). Today, mothers in Gaza, in Israel, in Ukraine, in Russia, weep and do not find comfort. “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) will not come effortlessly and may not come soon. The evil and hate with which we have enshrouded ourselves will not be easily overcome.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, is told that “a sword will pierce your heart” (Luke 2:35). It will take the death of this newborn king some 30 years later to redirect history towards hope. Hope comes not through a political victory, national supremacy, or the restoration of values. It comes through the resurrection of Jesus. And it comes as followers of Jesus live out the upside-down values of his kingdom. May God grant peace on earth!
Note: The image is Massacre of the Innocents from the Grabow alterpiece by Bertram of Minden (Kunsthalle, Hamburg).