The Christmas season is indeed a season of joy, and thus it perhaps feels counterintuitive to dwell on Jesus’ death come Epiphany, signaled by Herod’s and Jerusalem’s rejection of baby Jesus and by the Magi’s gifts. While hinting at Christ’s eventual suffering, The Gospel of Luke’s account of the conception and birth of Jesus is generally joyous and rosy (though hints of Jesus’ and Mary’s coming suffering are to be found). Matthew’s Gospel, by contrast, is much darker, portraying a situation in which the baby Jesus is thrown into the world under mortal threat. The hints in our text for today are inescapable.
Christians in the West have perhaps become culpably cozy and comfortable with the world, for we have had a relatively privileged position for some time, though that is steadily changing. But, like the Gospel of John and St. Augustine, this Gospel text for Epiphany reminds us that the world is not indifferent to Jesus. Rather, it rejected him from the beginning. The coming of Christ reveals not only God to us, but also us to ourselves, showing up the world for the situation it is in: estrangement and hostility to God. Thus, the homilist may do well to remind his congregation that the normal situation for Christians in the world is the situation of Jesus, a situation of rejection and persecution. Christian existence is cruciform.