Thursday, January 6, 2011
The oft-recycled Epiphany sermon (with asides on James Taylor, T.S. Eliot, Sadao Watanabe, and Masao Takanake)
Bear in mind that I wrote this Epiphany sermon a little over a year after 9/11. It's from eight years ago, Epiphany 2003. I stand by what I said. Click here to read it.
I looked for artistic representations of Herod, since a good deal of the sermon focuses on him. What I found, for the most part, were representations of the consequences of Herod's actions: the slaughter of the innocents; the Magi returning home by another way; the flight into Egypt of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.
Later on of course there is another Herod, Herod Antipas, who is the son of Herod the Great, and it is he who is involved in the deaths of both John the Baptizer and Jesus according to the Gospel stories.
The only scenes in which Herod shows up as a visible protagonist are, once in a while, Herod with the Magi, and, more often (at least in Western art), Herod's feast, but that one is Herod the son. The feast is the one at which which Herod Antipas's stepdaughter Salome dances and asks for the beheading of John.
In painted scenes of Jesus' infancy, even with Herod the Great's presence in the stories, artists tends to focus on the Holy Family, the shepherds, the animals, the angels, and the Magi. Makes sense. "But Herod's always out there. / He's got our cards on file," James Taylor's song notes. And... See the sermon for more.
Of course I also read --or listen to-- the T.S. Eliot poem "Journey of the Magi" every year, but I only cited a line or two of it in that sermon.
The link at the name of the poem will take you to the text of "Journey of the Magi" and to an audio of T.S. Eliot himself reading it. Well worth a listen.
Don't mix "Journey of the Magi" with the sermon though -- very different animals. Read them separately, or just read one or the other.
Note: I never see the work of the Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe (see above) without thinking fondly of Dr. Masao Takanake, who during his time at Harvard introduced me and others to Watanabe's work. Watanabe's art graces the cover of at least one of Takenaka's books, The Bible Through Asian Eyes. A scholar of Christian ethics, Takenaka also wrote God Is Rice: Asian Culture and Christian Faith and other works. He was for many years the President of the Asian Christian Art Association.