St. John assures us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Ours is an embodied faith. In Christ Jesus, the Scriptures have found their fullest revelation. The ancient prophecies have taken on a new dimension of reality, no longer confined to the speculative or spiritual spheres, crucially important and all as those are. The whole drama of Christ’s birth in the stable is one that highlights His body; that is why we speak of His incarnation.
Today’s celebration of the Epiphany reflects this new embodied dispensation. God’s desire to be known by all peoples and nations is beautifully recounted with the arrival of the Magi from the East, who represent the universal scope of God’s dominion. Rather than remaining within the cosy confines of their places of study, feeding on revelations from books or oral traditions, the Magi were moved to encounter the concrete reality of the Word made flesh. Deceitful though he was, Herod indirectly attested to this new reality when he encouraged the Magi to “go” and find out all about the child (Matthew 2:8). This demand to physically go and embrace more fully, more profoundly, the incarnate Word has a lot to tell us about the way we engage with each other as embodied persons today.
More and more, bodily encounters are yielding to online encounters. Of course these are not bad in themselves but still, technological progress seems to have resulted in bodily regress to some extent. Now it is so easy to construct identities independent of the reality of our bodies, and can often even be contrary to them. Self-revelation online need not have any connection whatsoever to the embodied person constructing it. In some sense it has the potential to dis-embody people. Rather than being this body we are reduced to being anybody or even worse, nobody.
Yet God chose to reveal Himself in the flesh, physically and tangibly in time, in history in a particular cultural context. What are we to make of this? It seems to me that there is a connection between the human body Christ assumed and the message He wanted to convey to us. In other words, our bodies reveal something of us also and to neglect this is to give a skewed or limited description of who we are. Blessed John Paul II spoke of the body “as revealing the person”. By taking on our human flesh, God is saying that He can justly be said to be true man. This message is vital if we are to understand Christ’s redemptive suffering on the cross.
Indeed, God could have stayed at a distance as we so often do in our online interactions and gone along with the stereotypes of the Messiah that was expected. He could have given the impression that He was the warrior Messiah or the social and political revolutionary some hoped for. Yet He chose to reveal Himself as a helpless infant born in poverty, saying something about the nature of who He is and what he wanted to achieve. He did not construct or present an idealised self. The Magi saw the new born Saviour for who He was, in ways that other limited means of communication cannot account for. Their response too, by giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, is a physical manifestation of their worship. It says more than clicking the “like” button on social networking sites can say.
God’s revelation in Christ’s incarnation might well have been read from a book but, as is the case today, some deny this. By showing it in its lived physical reality, the Magi’s theoretical expectations were proclaimed in practice, confirming them in who they had encountered and giving us an authentic example of how to humble ourselves before our God.
Gospel Reflection for the Feast of the Epiphany Year A – (Matthew 2: 1-12)