They were Jesus to people who couldn’t find Jesus in the pulpit or the pew. This is Christ revealed to the world. This is the Epiphany in action today.
Jesus is revealed through mercy
The Epiphany | Matthew 2:1-12
Monday, I was one of two people in the theater watching Spotlight. If you don’t know the film by name, you certainly know the subject matter. It dramatizes the story of a group of reporters for the Boston Globe who broke the story of the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church with their exposé on the coverup and the church’s unsuccessful attempt to secretly rehabilitate predatory priests.The stunning coincidence of this big story, landing on the Epiphany, is perfect. Click To Tweet
I’ll hazard to say that I won’t be spoiling the movie for you, given the nature of it. Please forgive me if I do.
Late in the film, as they are preparing to release their story, what will be the first of many, two of the journalists are in their office; the rest of the team is out. And the one remarks observationally: “You know it’s the Epiphany.”
They didn’t want the story buried in the Christmas rush, but they knew the story needed to be told, so they waited until early January.
The stunning coincidence of this big story, landing on the Epiphany, is perfect. And these reporters, all four from Boston, all lapsed Catholics, knew what that meant.
I’m not sure the casual viewer would.
And sadly, I’m not sure all Catholics or Lutherans or Episcopalians would.
For the Epiphany is about revelation. It is about truth. It is about the understanding that something, someone powerful has come into the world.
In Spotlight, and in the true story it tells, we receive truth, we receive the Good News in all of its hope and discomfort.
The Upside Down Kingdom
I implore you to see the movie if you haven’t. It is one of the finest films I’ve seen in years, with some truly courageous acting for a story without fight scenes, debilitating illness, or striking personal circumstances: the stuff the Academy loves.
But as I watched the film I thought over and over about the Epiphany.
I thought about how upside down it is: the corruption of the world was embodied by the church and the redemptive revelation of justice and mercy was brought by a newspaper. In the listening to the stories of victims, the intense need to find justice for them, and perhaps most importantly, the gravitas to not only worry about the single victims and individual perpetrators, but also the systemic abuse, and the many ways in which the powerful continue to get away with injustice and the weak are perpetually preyed upon.
This story doesn’t condemn the Catholic church; it condemns the abuse and the system which ensured it would continue.
And more alarmingly, to me, and all the more hopeful for those willing to see it, is that Christ was revealed throughout the film. Not in black clericals and cassocks, but in these journalists, in these men and women fighting, not only to expose injustice, but bring systemic change, a spotlight into the shadows of abuse, the peace of Christ to thousands of victims and their families. They were Jesus to people who couldn’t find Jesus in the pulpit or the pew.
This is Christ revealed to the world. This is the Epiphany in action today.
The Wise Men
We know our gospel story for tonight as the cute last act of the Christmas pageant, with little boys dressed as kings, bringing presents to the baby Jesus, standing regally beside the shepherds, juxtaposing the poor and the rich, the native and the foreigner.
But these are not really kings. They’re astrologers, coming from the East, who unwittingly endanger the baby Jesus and run away, rather than protect him or face the wrath of the evil king. They aren’t heroes in the story. And worse, they are unknowingly complicit in the death of all the infant children of Bethlehem. This is not a happy story. It is a dark, dark one.
And still, in the middle of it, is the light. The light made metaphor in a star, bringing these strangers from far away to Jesus.
I marvel how often in Scripture, from Genesis on, that GOD works through people who are not in the tribe. How often GOD’s work, GOD’s beauty and light, GOD’s mercy and faithfulness are revealed in outsiders.
And here, even here, with these astrologers from far away, who I so often think are so cowardly and naive, a great event happens. A powerful expression of the true GOD is revealed to them. In the star, in the finding of Jesus. And they are brought to tears of exceedingly great joy. They are overwhelmed by the experience of finding Jesus. Not in him or seeing him, but in finding him, locating him, coming to the dwelling place.
It is like those victims who have no safe home, no place where the people will listen to them. And here, here they find it. I imagine their tears flowed like mine did in the movie theater when I begged for these voices to be heard.
The Mission of Jesus
This is the work of the church, of the Christian, of all who hope and work for justice in the world, that we can find what we seek and see what we have longed for; that this following of Christ is worth it! That it is worth the sin of our institutions and the frailty of our condition. That we won’t be put off Christ himself because of the sin of Christians.
That we live without the fear of institutional decline or the debilitating silence of scandal.
That we see the Epiphany as the coming of Christ into our midst, the mission of Jesus as being realized, as the hope of the world coming to us and through us. That we see how much bigger the game is than the little game board we’re playing on. How much more important our voices are in the cacophony of selfishness and isolation. How much more significant our compassion and mercy is to those who are hurt, those bleeding and scarred from abuse.
That we see that Jesus is with us. Not us, because we are Christians; not us because we believe; not us because we are special or have credentials or are licensed to serve the church. Us, because he comes to us, because he loves us, because he longs to heal the whole world – all of us.
Jesus is with us to transform this small and broken world. And we are entrusted to do exactly that for as long as we are here.