With today, as you know, we conclude our official celebration of Christmas time. Also, with this feast today; we find ourselves in a new year—2020. I read a piece somewhere relating this New Year to 20-20 vision and as we all know, such vision represents, “seeing quite clearly”—perhaps a wish, a prayer for a new year, a new decade of time!
“Epiphany” is from the Greek meaning, “manifestation” and it refers to the divine coming into humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Such a coming, as we have heard all of our religious-spiritual lives has the ability of changing the course of history.
One of the wonderful things with a new year is that it gives us a new start—a time to reflect on what has been, what hasn’t been, and what could be in our lives. A friend sent me a reflection recently that was advocating for all religions going back to their sources, finding what is best there and rather than leaving behind institutions that have failed miserably in living out their founders’ missions, picking up those core beliefs and beginning to live these best principles again. A worthy cause for a new year—it would seem.
In modern language, “epiphany” means an “aha” moment—coming to a realization, perhaps, of what is needed to make a situation, an institution—our world, in fact— better. It would seem our world is in need, now, of some “aha” moments!
There must have been something wonderful that the Magi, astrologers from the east saw when they encountered the baby and his parents in Bethlehem to enable them to first of all, recognize the child as someone special in his poverty and simplicity and then to be able to go back to their own country and share the wonder with others of what they had experienced in a stable so far from home.
These kings, in their own right, went in search of a king, following a star by day and night, for several months, we are told, and discovered that to be a king is really more about “how” one behaves as a king than “who” they ultimately are. Would that those who lead us now in church and state could wrap their minds and hearts around that concept!
These kings, that we celebrate today, going in search of a king were at first surprised to find the object of their long search in such surroundings, but something about what they experienced was indeed, for them, an “aha” moment. So profound was their experience that they knew what they must do. If this were not so; we wouldn’t be talking about these kings today!
So for us friends; what can be our takeaways from this feast? The prophet Isaiah is clear about what must be done—we are to, “arise” and “shine,” for our “light has come,” he says. Exegete Diane Bergant says that this demands a two-fold action from us. First, that we take notice (arise), but then this action requires another action, that we, “shine.”
To me this says that we must take notice of how our loving God chose to come into our existence—not in glory, but in poverty—not with a great deal of notoriety, but in simplicity. This reminds me of one of the years when I was working as a chaplain at our local hospital and our pastoral care department was looking for a nativity set for our chapel. The gift shop had a set that depicted not just the 3 Kings, but Mary, Joseph and the baby in royal, golden robes and to me, it was just, all wrong!
Even the Magi didn’t know what they were looking for and foolishly went searching for answers from the only person who would see Jesus’ birth not as a blessing, but as a rival to his throne. But those who have written at any length about the ultimate finding of the long-awaited child say that “the place” of his birth was not what they expected, but upon seeing him there with his parents realized, “the rightness” of the place and the circumstances of his birth—not in glory, but in poverty.
Why is it, do you think, that we as humans need to rewrite this beautiful Christmas story about a God who loved us so much as to become one-with-us, to help us then to become our best selves—“shepherding,” as it were, all the people who are in need just like Jesus ultimately did throughout his life? Is this call just too hard for us?—making sure that the basics of this world are there for everyone, instead of just a few? Why is it that so many of our mainline churches just don’t have the following that they once did? Could it be that too many of them, especially for us, the Christian ones, very seldom proclaim the message of Jesus? Has their message become too much about the rules and regulations, devoid of love, with too little understanding of peoples’ true needs with little willingness to grow and change as times change? For a good study in this, the film, The Two Popes, depicting the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis is a good watch.
The beauty of the Christmas story is found in its simplicity—if we can look there and see how our God chose to become one-with-us. This signals then, how we, as Jesus’ followers, must move in our world and if we can do this, then Christmas will have worked its magic on us! It was this simple, yet profound message that the Kings from the east discovered in Bethlehem and which they got, by the way, knowing that it was a message that they could carry home and to every place that their lives would lead them.
The God of us all chose to come simply so as not to give the wrong message—it is not about status, “who we are,” or think we are, but about, “how” we are in this world—how we share, care and ultimately, love! Again, The Two Popes is a good look at that.
The other profound challenge of this feast of the Epiphany is, “to get out of the box,” in our religious thinking! The Jews mistakenly thought that the Messiah was for them alone and it is this feast that calls the lie to this idea!
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians today basically tells us, that, “the Gentiles,”—translation, “all of us,” are heirs of this great act of love. And it is for this reason that the Interfaith Council of Winona is of such interest to me—demanding that each of us from our different religious backgrounds break out of our small boxes of belief and see what we share in common for the good of all. Present day writers like Diamuid O’Murcho and Franciscans, Ilia Delio and Richard Rohr call us to this type of thinking in their writings on the “Cosmic Christ.”
So my friends, on this feast of the Epiphany, my prayer for each of us is that we open our eyes, ears and hearts to bigger concepts than we have perhaps dared to think about before—that we would have some a-ha moments in this New Year, 2020, reaching out to those things that include, that heal, that spread the best of all the religious underpinnings in all of us—basically, love for our world, and for its people! Amen? Amen!