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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"The Season of Epiphanies"

I love the Season of Epiphany for many reasons, but especially because no one really seems to know what to do with it, much less an entire season of epiphanies.

At St. Paul's, someone - at least once - will insist on changing all the vestments and altar hangings back to green, forgetting that their priest chooses the liturgical option of keeping things white until we have to change to the somber purple of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

After a few weeks, someone will say, “Um . . .haven’t we been forgetting the confession?” And, I’ll say, “Soon enough, my friend, soon enough, and we’ll be saying it EVERY Sunday in Lent.”

The Crèche can stay assembled as well as the white candles on the pews because The Season of the Epiphany is also known as the ‘Season of Light’ – Christians know Jesus as the ‘Light of the World.’

Some folk will want to leave up other Christmas decorations while others will grumble, not knowing exactly why they sound so crabby, and ask, “When are we going to take down those wreaths? Isn’t Christmas over YET?” And, their priest answers, “Yes, but it’s the Season of the Epiphany.”

Confused looks will abound, no one knowing quite how to respond.

I’m willing to bet that most people reading this column know about the Season of Christmas. Fewer know about the Season of Advent – that time of preparation immediately before Christmas. Perhaps a few more readers than that will know about The Feast of the Epiphany itself, on January 6th, because of the traditional celebration, especially in the Hispanic culture, of ‘Los Reyes,’ the ‘Feast of the Three Kings’.

Many know the story about the Magi – at the very least from the hymn, “We three kings of Orient are . . .” – who came to Bethlehem by following the Star. The ‘epiphany’ was the glory of God made manifest in the surprising package of the Infant Jesus in that humble manger.

That was just the first of the many surprises God has in store for us in the Incarnation. Which is why there is an entire Season of Epiphany.

The gospel lessons we hear on Sunday are chock-full of ephanies including the story of the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, the time Jesus was ‘lost’ in the Temple, the miracle of the Wedding at Cana, his first sermon in the Temple, his first sermon on the Mount, and a whole raft of healing miracle stories.

In common, every-day parlance, an epiphany has come to mean a realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something. Usually, there is an element of surprise – a moment of “Aha!” that catches us off guard. Unfortunately, this has become the stock and trade of many sitcoms on television – all hokey and sentimental and romantic - which reveals something about the nature of the best of the human enterprise.

The Epiphanies of God reveal something about the nature of God, as revealed in Christ Jesus, whose essence we carry within us but which we can neither fully embody nor completely comprehend. Which is why, I think, we get exasperated if we do not completely comprehend the Season of the Epiphany.

Having an epiphany is never planned. It is always a surprise. It always gives us just a little glimmer, opens a tiny window, into the mystery that is the nature of God. It is never hokey or romantic, but it can be shocking or disturbing.

The Season of the Epiphany is a wondrous time to take in the miracle of God’s creation. In the midst of the ‘bleak midwinter’ when the sky is dark gray, the trees bare and brittle, and the ground is hard and cold, take time to ponder the common, everyday miracles all around you:

The complex simplicity and individuality of a snowflake.

The cloud of vapor that forms at your lips in the midst of the cold – a human smoke signal.

The way sound travels.

The way, as the psalmist says, “One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another.” (Psalm 19).

“These are the days of miracles and wonders, this is a long distance call.”

At the risk of dating myself, I will identify that for you as a line from Paul Simon’s then-miraculous and highly controversial album from pre-apartheid South Africa. The verse continues in what I have come to know as the best cultural Epiphany hymn:

“The way the camera follows us in slow-mo. The way we look to us all. The way we look to a distant constellation that’s dying in the corner of the sky. These are the days of miracles and wonder and don't cry baby, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.”

We couldn’t imagine, then, the miracle of the end of Apartheid.

Some of us can’t imagine an end to the genocide in Darfur.

Or, the end of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Or peace – lasting peace – in modern Jerusalem or Bethlehem, or Northern Ireland, or Pakistan, or between North and South Korea.

Don’t rush through this season. Take your time.

The manifestations of God are all around. Some are just there – waiting to be discovered or uncovered or recovered.

Others are waiting to be prayed into being.

Others need your hands, your feet, your mind, and your heart, your “Yes!” (like Mary’s) in order to be born.

You see, the real gift of the Season of the Epiphany is that which can’t be bought or sold: It is the gift of imagination.

And, human imagination is one of the epiphanies of the miracle of God.

1 comment:

Deborah Sproule said...

I knew there was a reason for our light up Mary, Joseph and Jesus yard ornaments staying in the front yard, now covered in snow! This year I found great calm in answering anyone who asked before Christmas, "Have you got your shopping done yet"? I'd say "I do Advent for four weeks before celebrating Christmas". This usually brought comments like "What's Advent" or "I wanna do that but you know, the Kids".
Read Presiding Bishop Katharine's Book ,A Wing and a Prayer, "God With Skin", pg 151