There is a short story told by Franz Kafka. In the story there is an emperor who is on his deathbed and he wants to send a message to you alone. Yes, you – poor, insignificant subject that you are – living at the furthest edge of the empire. But the message is extremely important to the emperor, so important that he summons a messenger and even has the messenger repeat the message back twice to make sure he has it memorized correctly. After the second time of checking the accuracy of the message the emperor nods his head approvingly. Then in the presence of his entire court the emperor dismisses the messenger and sends him on his mission to bring you the emperor’s message. Immediately the messenger sets out, he is a strong and vigorous man but immediately he encounters resistance – the members of the court are so packed around the emperor each vying for his attention. Bit by bit the messenger has to elbow and squeeze his way through the crowd. Finally, he makes his way out of the royal chamber but all the rooms of the palace are packed with people! He shows the royal insignia and this clears the path for a few feet but then he is faced with a wall of people again. But the messenger is determined; he keeps struggling against the crowd – one room after another, down stairways and inch by inch through the courtyard. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity of struggle, the messenger passes through the final gate of the palace. But now what lies before him is the vast imperial city, piled high with mountains of its own rubbish through which no one can make headway. You, meanwhile sit at your window and dream about the message, as evening falls.
A strange story for the Feast of the Epiphany when we proclaim and celebrate in faith that the glory of the Lord shines forth in our world! Magi from the East arrive in this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 2:1-12) looking for the newborn king. All nations and all peoples share in the light of Christ! A strange story by Kafka but a story that raises an important question; on the Feast of the Epiphany as we proclaim the glory of Christ for all nations do we actually allow the light of that glory to reach us – poor, insignificant subjects that we are, seemingly living on the furthest edge of the empire? Do we believe that the emperor has a concern for us and a message so important for each one of us that even on his deathbed he is determined that it be sent?
The vastness of the crowd and rubbish that the messenger valiantly struggles against is a joint conspiracy of self and world – our world’s preoccupations, biases, prejudices and determinations in what it considers important as well as our own weaknesses, our sins and our fears. Together these continually try to block and hinder the messenger who carries the emperor’s message for you. “Joy is possible! Sin is overcome! Life can be different! A child is born in Bethlehem!” In the birth of Christ, God begins to whisper this one message for our world and meant for each one of us, “Tell the world that I love it and am dying for its sins!” As we sit at our windows, thinking ourselves at the furthest edge of the empire, do we actually allow this message to reach us or are we content to just dream about it?
Here is a new year’s resolution that I will bring to you just as it is has been laid on my own heart from this Sunday’s readings: this new year, let us pray God that by his grace (and it is only by his grace that this is possible) we come to recognize this conspiracy of self and world active in our lives that keeps the messenger distant and removed and let us, with every ounce of our ability, do all that is possible to overcome that conspiracy. This year, let us not just proclaim that the glory of Lord shines forth, let us receive and welcome that glory into our own hearts and let us tear down whatever might separate the light of that glory from reaching us and reaching all of our brothers and sisters!
“Tell the world that I love it and am dying for its sins!”