Epiphany — The Coming of a Shepherd for All God’s People
The readings for the Feast of the Epiphany and the week that follows ring out with joy at the coming of the Lord, not just to the Jewish people, but to all the world. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” (Is 60:1) “… the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6) “… behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:1-2) “All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.” (Ps 72:11)
Yet amidst all of this joy and talk of kings and splendor, the reality of God’s kingdom quietly peeks out. Where has the child been born? Not in Jerusalem, the center of political and religious power. Those in Jerusalem — kings and priests alike — have not heard of the birth of a child to inherit the throne. The priests and teachers remember the prophecy of his birth: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” (Mt 2:6) Bethlehem, city of David, home of another child who grew up to replace an earthly king to whom he was not related, is once again to produce such a king! The news was not a source of joy to the rulers of the age; an attempt to thwart the prophecy was duly launched, leading to the massacre of all of the boys aged two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. (Mt 2:16) The birth of a child to be the new king brings terrible suffering to many innocent children and their families.
The king of the prophecy will be different: he will be a shepherd for God’s people, Israel. A shepherd takes a different approach to governing and to leadership. The shepherd will govern with justice, protecting the afflicted ones and bringing peace “til the moon be no more” to the land. (Ps 72:7) The kings of the nations will pay homage to this king and all nations will serve him because this king rescues the poor who cry out for help. He takes pity on everyday people and the poor, rescuing them from all who would oppress or take advantage of them. Such a king would indeed be welcomed and his glory would truly shine forth. This king, blessed by God, will bring glory to Jerusalem — the center of the Lord’s presence among His people.
This great feast of Epiphany, the shining forth of the Lord’s splendor from Israel into the world at large, reminds us of our call as the People of God: a call to care for each other so that the splendor of love in all its practical applications will be a witness everywhere to the presence of the Shepherd, leading us in bringing justice and peace to our world.