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THE DIVINE AGENDA

Read­ing Time: 8 minutes

 

(Ref. Texts: Isa 60:1–6; Eph 3:2–3a.5–6; Matt 2:1–12)

The glory of the Lord has set you ablaze with light.”

When we think of God, we are apt to think of Him in human form. In the Epi­phanies of the Old Test­a­ment God revealed Him­self to Joshua and oth­ers in human form. He puts Him­self with­in the com­pass of our highest con­cep­tion, in order that He may make Him­self real to us in His love and sym­pathy and power.” 

Introduction

Dear friends, wel­come to 2018! Like pre­vi­ous years, 2018 will also be a year of bless­ing for all of us. We thank God for mak­ing us cit­izens of this year. Embrace it with hap­pi­ness. Live it with renewed vigour and enthu­si­asm. King Herod or Herod the Great was appoin­ted king of the Jews under the Roman author­ity. He ruled firmly and at times ruth­lessly, mur­der­ing his own wife, sev­er­al sons, and oth­er rel­at­ives. He was a mas­ter build­er who restored the temple in Jer­u­s­alem and built many theatres, cit­ies, palaces, and fort­resses. While he des­troyed human lives, he built struc­tures. That is the polit­ics of the selfish and god­less. In many instances, the Nigeri­an politi­cians are like King Herod in the sense that they are ruth­less, god­less and fun­da­ment­ally cor­rupt. While Herod des­troyed human lives and built struc­tures, the Nigeri­an politi­cians des­troy the lives of the cit­izens and even des­troy their prop­erty without build­ing any struc­tures. Instead, they build their own per­son­al struc­tures and mansions.

What is epiphany?

Ordin­ar­ily, epi­phany refers to that very moment when a per­son sud­denly feels that he or she under­stands, or sud­denly becomes con­scious of some­thing that is very import­ant. On the oth­er hand, it is a potent reli­gious exper­i­ence. The Mer­ri­am-Web­ster Dic­tion­ary renders it as sud­den mani­fest­a­tion or per­cep­tion of the essen­tial nature or mean­ing of some­thing; an illu­min­at­ing dis­cov­ery, real­iz­a­tion, or dis­clos­ure; a reveal­ing scene or moment. It is the appear­ance or mani­fest­a­tion espe­cially of a divine being. Accord­ing to its Greek ori­gin, epi­phany derives from epi (in this con­text on, upon) and phainō (show one­self, appear). While the verb is epi­phainō, the noun is epi­phaneia (appear­ance, appear­ing, mani­fest­a­tion, coming).

Meta­phor­ic­ally, that is, in ref­er­ence to divine inter­ven­tion, epi­phainō means to give light, shine on or shine upon (cf. Luke 1:79). In our con­text, we can take epi­phainō both in its ordin­ary and meta­phor­ic­al senses. In oth­er words, God shows him­self, appears to man­kind, gives light to man­kind and shines upon the face of the earth to bright­en and enlight­en the way of the people. In this reli­gious con­nota­tion, epi­phaneia refers to Janu­ary 6 observed as a church fest­iv­al in com­mem­or­a­tion of the com­ing of the magoi as the first mani­fest­a­tion of Jesus to the Gen­tiles (cf. Matt 2:1–12) or in the East­ern Church, in com­mem­or­a­tion of the bap­tism of Jesus. For Chris­ti­ans, epi­phaneia has two­fold mean­ing. Firstly, it refers to the tan­gible appear­ance of Jesus on earth at the end of his­tory. Accord­ing to Paul’s descrip­tion in 2Thessalonians 2:1–12, the advent of the law­less man will pre­cede the vis­ible appear­ance of the Lord Jesus. In this pas­sage, Paul asso­ci­ates epi­phaneia and par­ousia. The man of law­less­ness is already at work (cf. 2Thess 2:7), but the Lord Jesus will des­troy him by the splend­our (epi­phaneia) of his com­ing (par­ousia), cf. 2Thess 2:8. Secondly, Chris­ti­ans also applied and con­tin­ues to apply epi­phaneia to the earthly appear­ance of the Saviour in his incarn­a­tion (cf. 2Tim 1:10).

Who is a Magus?

While magi is plur­al, the sin­gu­lar form is magus. A magus is a magi­cian or a sor­cer­er of the Ancient Times. Reli­giously, a magus is a mem­ber of a hered­it­ary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Per­sians. Stated dif­fer­ently, magus refers to a mem­ber of the Zoroastri­an priest­hood of the ancient Per­sians. In this sense, a magus is a non-Chris­ti­an priest. That is, one who per­forms reli­gious cere­mon­ies and oth­er reli­gious duties in a non-Chris­ti­an reli­gion. The duty of the Magi qual­i­fies them as wise.

In the Per­sian and the Baby­lo­ni­an king­doms, it was the cus­tom for the wise men (Greek magoi, plur­al of magos) to refer to priests and experts in mat­ters of mys­ter­ies. This explains the reas­on these magoi went to Herod on their arrival to Jer­u­s­alem. How­ever, by this time, the term magos applied to a range of people whose prac­tices included astro­logy, dream inter­pret­a­tion, study of sac­red writ­ings, the pur­suit of wis­dom, and magic. Their vis­it espe­cially, the reas­on, was not good news to King Herod. The star of the newly born king which the magoi saw recalls Balaam’s proph­ecy in Num­bers 24:17 that “a star shall come out of Jac­ob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” For the Jews, such star poin­ted to the mes­si­ah. The move­ment of the star indic­ates it was not a nat­ur­al phe­nomen­on. It was a super­nat­ur­al arrange­ment meant to con­tin­ue the divine superi­or­ity and con­trol in and of the birth of the mes­si­ah. It is still the over­power­ing power of the El Shad­dai. The arrival of this true King of the Jews presents a threat to Herod the Great’s throne and to Israel’s cor­rupt reli­gious and polit­ic­al lead­er­ship in Jer­u­s­alem. In many Chris­ti­an coun­tries includ­ing Niger­ia, the memori­al of the birth of the mes­si­ah means an increase in cor­rup­tion and evil both in the civil and reli­gious circles. Instead of seek­ing for spir­itu­al gain and growth, Chris­ti­ans seek for mater­i­al gain. This explains the reas­on for the hike in prices of goods and trans­port­a­tion dur­ing the Christ­mas cel­eb­ra­tion. Oth­er examples abound.

The divine agenda

At the news of the birth of a king, Herod became dis­turbed and imme­di­ately con­voked the chief priests and the scribes and inquired from them where the king was to be born. While the chief priests were in-charge of the temple activ­it­ies, the scribes were the offi­cial inter­pret­ers of the law. Remem­ber, Christ means the ‘anoin­ted one.’ That is, the mes­si­ah. The three gifts: gold, frankin­cense and myrrh are very sym­bol­ic. While Gold is a pre­cious met­al, Frankin­cense is res­in used cere­mo­ni­ally for the only incense per­mit­ted on the altar (cf. Exod 30:9.34–38). On the oth­er hand, Myrrh is sap used in incense, per­fume, and as a stim­u­lant ton­ic. The Naz­areth fam­ily must have left with these gifts dur­ing their flight to Egypt. The appear­ing of the star, the three wise men, the troub­ling of Herod, the three gifts giv­en to Jesus by the wise men and the flight into Egypt, are all part of divine salvif­ic pro­gram, which gradu­ally unfol­ded in the per­son of Jesus through his teach­ings, works, pas­sion, cru­ci­fix­ion, death and resur­rec­tion. Such divine agenda remained incom­pre­hens­ible to Herod and the entire Jew­ish reli­gious author­ity who lacked the interi­or dis­pos­i­tion to under­stand and inter­pret divine pur­poses. Has the situ­ation changed today? Des­pite God’s unceas­ing effort, the Herods in our soci­et­ies espe­cially in Niger­ia, have not allowed the divine agenda to mani­fest itself both in the civil soci­ety and in the reli­gious communities.

Different arrangements

I did men­tion above that “epi­phaneia refers to Janu­ary 6 observed as a church fest­iv­al in com­mem­or­a­tion of the com­ing of the magoi as the first mani­fest­a­tion of Jesus to the Gen­tiles (cf. Matt 2:1–12) or in the East­ern Church in com­mem­or­a­tion of the bap­tism of Jesus.” This means that the same feast is cel­eb­rated for dif­fer­ent reas­ons and on dif­fer­ent dates. While the church cel­eb­rates it to mark the mani­fest­a­tion to the Gen­tiles, in the East­ern Church, epi­phaneia com­mem­or­ates the bap­tism of Jesus. Accord­ing to the Sunday Missal, epi­phaneia is cel­eb­rated on Janu­ary 6 or the Sunday between Janu­ary 2 and 8 Janu­ary. In some places like Italy, it has a fixed date which is Janu­ary 6, regarded also as a feast day which marks the end of the Christ­mas fest­iv­it­ies. Since epi­phaneia is cel­eb­rated on Janu­ary 6 in Italy, the bap­tism of Jesus is cel­eb­rated on the fol­low­ing Sunday. Here in Niger­ia, since the epi­phaneia will be cel­eb­rated on this Sunday (Janu­ary 7), the feast of the bap­tism of Jesus will be cel­eb­rated on a week­day, Monday Janu­ary 8. This is by way of cla­ri­fic­a­tion on the litur­gic­al arrange­ments between the Nigeri­an church and the Itali­an church. Next page.…

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