And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed. St. Luke ii. 41
St. John Henry Newman wrote this about the season of Epiphany: “THE Epiphany is a season especially set apart for adoring the glory of Christ. The word may be taken to mean the manifestation of His glory, and leads us to the contemplation of Him as a King upon His throne in the midst of His court, with His servants around Him, and His guards in attendance. At Christmas we commemorate His grace; and in Lent His temptation; and on Good Friday His sufferings and death; and on Easter Day His victory; and on Holy Thursday His return to the Father; and in Advent we anticipate His second coming. And in all of these seasons He does something, or suffers something: but in the Epiphany and the weeks after it, we celebrate Him, not as on His field of battle, or in His solitary retreat, but as an august and glorious King; we view Him as the Object of our worship.”
This is the season of His glory. But it is a remarkable glory, noted in a heavenly way, not in a way expected by the world because His glory is one neglected by the world. “The light shone in the darkness but the darkness comprehended it not.” Though king of the universe, his castle was a lowly manger, his throne was his own mother’s lap, and his attendants were poor shepherds. Even when he grew up and started his ministry, his preaching was to the poor and downcast, to the sick sinners who are humble and meek. His way of conquering was to submit to all the darkness of the world and die a despicable death so that he could bring life to the world. Glimpses of what we might think Glory should look like appear at times. The Transfiguration, the few events after the Resurrection, and then His Ascension. All of these hint at something so unimaginable, that we realize, like Peter at the Transfiguration, that there is some mercy in hidden glory, for how could we stand in such majesty?
But what I want us to see is that just because the Glory of God does not appear in ways we think it should, this does not mean that it is absent. In fact, we must learn from the revelation given to us!
Take the Gospel lesson appointed for today as an example:
First, God’s glory was manifested to us in a child, in a small boy. We often think of God’s Almighty power, which He has, and yet, and yet he deigns to come to us as a child! Almighty power in a fragile and helpless child! This shows how God’s glory is also his love. The humility expressed by this mission is striking compared to the worldly obsession of political dominance through power and violence.
Second, God’s glory was held within a human who learned in human ways. Step by step, day by day. And here he is learning His own story, prophecy by prophecy, accepting his Father’s plan as he learns His own identity. I think about the rabbis who were in the temple those three days learning and listening to the questions of Jesus. Here the young boy bringing out new interpretations and asking piercing questions that brought out new truths they had never seen. They were amazed by his human understanding as they sat in the Light.
Third, God’s glory was bound by time, gravity, flesh, law, relationships, parents, and yet it was not diminished. We too are bound by these same inevitable features of our lives. And yet, all of these need not hold us back from the worship of the glory of God, for that same glory inhabited these very same features of our lives. We are bound by our bodies, we are bound to the relationships we have been given and the relationships we choose. And yet, all of these are not the end in and of themselves but serve, in different ways, our worship of God.
Glory of God is often hidden. We want to respond in our own bodies to that Glory with all the might we can muster, with all the beauty we can find, with the most exquisite music and liturgy possible, and this we should do. Yet, for this strange season, we live in restriction and sacrifice.
Where is the glory of God? I can tell you this: God’s glory is not diminished. His love is not diminished, His majesty is not diminished. As ever, he comes to us these days in the most humble way, not with apparent power and might but in the most common items: bread and wine. Have you stopped to think about that? In your hand I place a host–and you hold the body of God, the glory of the Almighty for you to eat and partake. This is the glory of our faith! Christ has truly come and appeared on earth–kings fell at his feet, all creation witnessed the birth of their Creator, and yet today, he comes to you in unique and hidden glory.
How do we respond? We want to give him our voices, our fellowship, our music, but we cannot right now. What else can we give? I love the image of the three kings coming all that way and still giving the gifts to the king who was not in a palace but in a stable, surrounded by animals. They gave him Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. We, likewise, can give to Christ what he truly wants. We can give him the Gold of our free will as we submit to his law of Love. We can offer him the frankincense of our prayers as we turn all of our thoughts to Him. And finally we can offer him the Myrrh of our own penitence as we bare our sins and shortcomings before Him.
This is how we can worship our True King and escape the false imitation that is heralded by the world.
And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed.