January 8, 2023.

Dear Friends,

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday January, 2023 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us on Zoom, or in spirit, as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, and an end to the war in the Ukraine.

Christian Churches in the West call today the Feast of Epiphany as it celebrates the visit to the birthplace in Bethlehem of Jesus by Three Magi from the East, commonly thought of as ancient Persia. They may have been seers who could interpret dreams or astronomers who scanned the sky for signs of heavenly messages and are said to have followed a bright star that guided them to Bethlehem. The earliest reference to the feast dates back to 361 CE and is celebrated at the end of what many Christian denominations celebrate as the 12 Days of Christmas. In the Eastern tradition this day is known as Theophany as it celebrates the revelation of God as Incarnate in Jesus Christ but can also celebrate the stories of Jesus' childhood from the visit of the Magi up to his Baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist or even to his first recorded miracle at the Wedding at Cana in Galilee. Roman Catholics celebrate the Visit of the Magi today, recognizing in this story that these visitors, who recognized the Christ Child and offered gifts, were gentiles and therefore are a significant sign of the universal mission that Jesus would ultimately fulfill to the non-Jewish people of the world.

The word Epiphany is from the Greek and means manifestation, or appearance, the revelation to believers of a deity. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word is used in reference to a manifestation of the God of Israel and in the Christian Scriptures it refers to both the Birth of Christ and to his appearance after the Resurrection. There is much to reflect on in this image of seekers of the Divine making a dangerous journey across the desert by following a star, of bringing gifts that have come to represent ancient traditions for religious rituals and burial rites using fragrant spices like Frankincense and Myrrh and the Gold traditionally offered as a gift for a King.

In Islam the revelation of the Qur'anic verses to the Prophet Muhammad are experienced as the Epiphany and the Qur'an itself as a manifestation of the Divine revealed to believers. There are no Magi in the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Qur'an yet the experience of mystery and reverence are found in Surah 19 named Maryam. Much like the Gospel story, the young Maryam is visited by an angel and told that she will be given the gift of a holy son, that this is easy for the Lord even though no man has touched her. The angel/messenger replies in verse 21:

21) He said, "So (it will be). Your Lord says, "That is easy for Me. And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to men and a mercy from Us."
22)"So she conceived him, and she retired to a remote place.
27) "At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said, " O, Mary! Truly an amazing thing you have brought!"
28) "O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother a woman unchaste!"
29) "But she pointed to the babe. They said, "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"
30) He said, "I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has given me Revelation and made me a prophet."
31) "And He has made me blessed wherever I be, and enjoined on me Prayer and charity as long as I live."
33) "So Peace be on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up again."

We can rejoice today that both faith traditions offer us a vision of the miracle of Divine Love manifest in a holy child destined to be a blessing and a mercy for all people. Just as the Qur'an gives us a sense of the destiny that awaits the child Isa, Jesus, the gifts offered by the Magi too are a foreshadowing of his destiny. The gift of a holy son that brings peace, charity and mercy is surely one our world is very much in need of today. Let us pray for one another as we enter the New Year 2023 with the Epiphany of Divine Love in our hearts.

Peace to you,

The Qur'an, translation by Abdullah Yusef Ali. ASIR MEDIA Istanbul, Turkey 2002. Surah 19.

See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute