I am not a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but I do often read the daily meditation book, Twenty-Four Hours a Day. The thought for January 2 has this to say: “Then I must admit I was helpless, that alcohol had me licked and I couldn’t do anything about it. The next thing is to honestly want to quit the old life.”
As I was reflecting on the Feast of Epiphany, I was thinking about how the arrival of the Son of God become one of us in Jesus Christ is to lead us to a new life. This Feast of Epiphany, where we mark the visit of three Magi, or wise men, to the infant Jesus, is a reminder that we cannot live a new life in Christ while we try to hold on to the old life of worldly wisdom.
Let me try to explain. The visit of the Magi is a foreshadowing of the realization that the Good News in Jesus Christ is meant for all, not just some particular group of people. This is what we hear from our second reading from Ephesians: “It was not made known to people in other generations, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Some scholars see a realization for Jesus of this in the encounter between He and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30 and parallels).
When we hang on for dear life to an “Us vs. Them” mentality; when we have reckoned that we know what God is thinking about “those people,” we are refusing to “quit the old life.” Look at what happens at court when the Magi come to Jerusalem to ask Herod about the “newborn king of the Jews.” Matthew tells us that that there were not overjoyed, but “greatly troubled.” They were caught up in the “old life” of hanging onto worldly power.
Now I am sure that there are those who believe that it is important to stand up for what is right, no matter who gets offended or whose feathers are ruffled. We need to call out those who are on the wrong side of the issues. And there is a basis for that. Jesus was not afraid to speak truth to power, as they say. Nor did practitioners of non-violence such as Gandhi and King. But I believe that even the harshest words of the true prophets in our midst are said out of love for God’s will and God’s people.
There are others who have looked at the history of Christianity and other religions and have concluded that they are well past the point of no return. They have seen too much of the “old life” of prejudice practiced within churches and temples to believe that religion of any sort has any value. If only we stopped having religion, stopped pretending that there was a God, the awful things we do to each other would stop, or at least decrease by a substantial margin. And history is strewn with the sins of people destroying other people in the name of God, so it is hard to refute their evidence. But I do find it interesting that many depictions of the Magi has at least one of them as a person of color. With all the history of so-called “Christians” doing acts of violence in the name of God, that embedded in our tradition is an indication of the truth of equality among peoples. We may not have lived out this truth as well as we ought, and in some cases we have failed miserably, but we believe it is a truth we find in Jesus. I can understand the viewpoint stated above, but I can’t agree with it.
The challenge of Epiphany for me is to look beyond myself, beyond my group, beyond my church, and see people, no matter what they believe, as loved by God. When I am willing to be freed “from the bondage of self” (another A.A. phrase), I am willing to live a new life in Christ, and let go of the “old life” that has weighed me and others down.
So I still have hope that we can honestly want to quit the old life of division and violence, greed and lust, and live in the love of Christ, who was revealed as a light for all. That, to me, is the only way to bring others to Christ. Any attempt to prove our superiority over others will fail. Any attempt to live a new life in the old ways of worldly wisdom will fail. We won’t be perfect at it, but if we “honestly” want to quit “the old life,” God will give us the grace to do it. May we be a revelation of Christ’s love for the world, and live a new life in the light.
Fr. Phil, CP