The enchanting story of the Wise Men visiting the infant Jesus has a sting in its tail. Having drawn King Herod’s attention to the birth of ‘the King of the Jews’ he determines to wipe out any rivals to his throne and orders the slaughter of all boys under two years old, among whom was Jesus.
So, with traumatising suddenness the lives of Joseph and Mary are turned upside down and they flee to Egypt. As the spectre of violence looms over them, they leave the security of their homeland with its familiar language and culture, the presence of their extended family, the fruits of a hard-earned career, and a circle of friends and acquaintances who make up the rich tapestry of their life. Instead, they become strangers in a foreign land, homeless, jobless, friendless and without any real sense of identity or continuity with the past.
87 million people, half of them children, are in that situation today. Seeking refuge in other countries, who are usually ambiguous about receiving them, they find themselves locked up in detention centres in appalling conditions: the UK had 4000 migrants in a centre with the capacity for 1600. Or else they are lined up for deportation – the UK choosing Rwanda as a destination. Yet still they come – desperate and desolate but daring. Daring to hope they can survive.
What difference can Christians make?
St James’ Piccadilly hung an inflatable used by migrants above its chancel as a reminder of their plight. Prayer on their behalf has been accompanied by protest from the Archbishop of Canterbury to an often indifferent society and government.
A church in Shrewsbury raised £6000 by holding concerts and donated the proceeds to the Ukraine Relief Fund.
My wife and I hosted a Ukrainian couple and their two young children in our home for five months and other clergy in the Diocese have done the same.
Epiphany means ‘appearing’ and these actions remind us of what we celebrate in the appearing of Jesus. We celebrate God making Godself present and active in the world, not by waving an invisible ‘magic’ wand but by working in and through the human body and mind of Jesus. ‘He is the place where God is active with an intensity that is nowhere else to be found’ writes Rowan Williams. But in less intense ways God is also active in those who are open to the influence of God’s Spirit. ‘God’s action works not by displacing but intensifying from within the capacity of human beings to do good.’ Divine action is veiled by human flesh and blood.
‘Christ’ wrote St Teresa, ‘has no hands but your hands; no feet but your feet; no mouth but your mouth.’ So, the challenge of Epiphany becomes this: What are you and I doing to embody God’s action in today’s world?
The Ven Paul Thomas
Archdeacon of Salop.
Images from the installation ‘Flight’ with courtesy of St James Church Piccadilly: https://www.sjp.org.uk/flight/