I want to position my reflection between two catalysts. First is Karen Armstrong’s assertion that mythos or sacred narrative assists us to review and experience deeply the many facets of the human predicament, notably here the choice between Good and Evil. Second is the genre of imaginative literature (see certain works of Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Cooper) that present us with a similar construction: How to see clearly and choose the good.
We know that today’s feast is about the showing or manifestation of God in the infant Jesus, but we have also recently celebrated the martyrdom of Stephen, the death of Holy Innocents, and implicitly the feast of St. John, all of which remind us of the cost of being disciples of Jesus, borne first and signally by him. Today, always, Jesus galvanizes choice, and the reading from Isaiah names the poles just as the fiction writers do: the realm of darkness and the realm of light. And the ancient Hebrew prophet maintains, in company with the writers mentioned above, that one must choose and be chosen by the light while shadowed by darkness. The gospel reading traces the same mythos: Herod and those siding with him are bent on one choice, the preservation of powerful position, at whatever cost. We see infant protomartyrs pay that price. Jesus’ protodisciples, Mary and Joseph, see well and make the opposite decision: to understand the dark for what it is and flee it. Paradoxically but inevitably, they go to Egypt and then emerge, retracing the perennial journey of slavery and liberation, death and life. Of course their son will tread the same path again, next week: in and out of the Jordan River at his baptism. And later, the same journey again.
As I ponder all these stories, it strikes me that the main challenge for us is to feel sufficient clarity in our call. Harry Potter has his scar and countless reassurances of who he is; Will Stanton has mentors, emblems, unusual experiences. I do not have these and suspect most others. are more like me than like Harry and Will. But their clarity in the mythoi is for us, precisely because we are unsure. If the choice must be made: Good, Evil? Light, Darkness? How to choose—be chosen, today?