|Epiphany: Like a lot
of these specialized Christian words, this one comes from Greek. These
Greek terms have become a kind of shorthand for large and complex ideas,
over the centuries, and sometimes, if we are honest, are almost more confusing
than they are worth. I'm fond of the word Epiphany though, so we'll keep
it, shall we? And we'll talk a bit about what it means.
Epiphany means, to shine forth
upon. Phanos is a light house, so this is a pretty vivid image of the light
beaming through the darkness, rather as a search light might do. So there
is the added beauty of the picture of a path, and a warning of rocks ahead
at the very least.
The Wise Pagans
Light in the Darkness
The Feast of the Epiphany
tells us the story of the Wise Men, and how Jesus was revealed as the Son
of God, to some wise goyim, - non jews.
Once upon a time this feast
was celebrated much as Christmas is now, probably because of the gifts
given by the wise men. It is most definitely a Winter Feast. The light
shines in the Darkness right when we most need reassurance. Right when
we are most cold and fearful that our supplies might run out, whether of
strength, or of courage or of resources.
Of course, that is true
even here in the Southern Hemisphere, when we are looking about, wondering
how to pay for the Christmas just Past in the Midsummer heat. But in Jesus
time, these gifts brought, not just the promise of security and God's support,
but also news of Jesus' birth to the King who feared Him. In other words,
the season was going to get a great deal darker before it got any easier.
There was exile to come for the baby and for his parents, and there was
death to come for the children in his home town, and unbearable grief for
Open to the Shining
One thing that has always
impressed me about the nature of the Epiphanies mentioned in the Gospels,
is that in a sense it is not God revealing God's self. It is not God shining
God is already here. God is
already, as it were, shining out. It is just that we do not, perhaps cannot
see the nature of what we touch and breathe every day. Our senses reveal,
but they also obscure and conceal.
We cannot, in a sense, simply
choose to change that. It is not so much a struggle to reach God and to
quiet ourselves so as to notice and pay heed to our divine host. So it
is in what has become known as the Transfiguration. I sometimes think it
is not so much that Jesus is transformed, as the disciples. Even Elijah
and Moses dwelt with him for a few hours, but He dwelt with them all the
time. Or rather, because He is timeless, He inhabits history as He inhabits
|Of course, for some of us
this Epiphany is a long journey, the result of years of study, prayer and
meditation. For others it takes place in a transforming moment. The old
saying, If you don't feel close to God, guess who moved, isn't very helpful,
for though it is true that he is always present, we, our wills, our abilities
and even our ability to accept or see what is under our own noses, is very
Living with the World
The Wise Men journeyed because
of the message of the Star. Humans have always navigated by the stars,
whether in the desert or over the sea. There is a translation of the Book
of Genesis which says that the stars are there for signs and portents.
We still celebrate Easter by the Passover Moon, which takes a good deal
of calculating these days because we are used to a much more mechanical
calendar. In other words, we are part of a most wondrous world, part of
a wholeness and a rhythm. The stars provide, not just a chart by
which we can travel through the world, and certainly not at all
a world which is governed by planetary patterns, but rather a world of
wholeness and beauty, where we can learn to set out on our journey within
a cosmos which is not only beautiful, but has meaning and which has rhythms
which we ignore at our peril. We learn much by living with the natural
harmonies instead of arrogantly trying to override them.
The Wise Men brought Gold,
Frankincense and Myrrh. Precious gifts to a baby and his family. Gifts
which contain Royalty, Mystery and Spiritual Power. Their journey, begun
in joy, and perhaps even in misunderstanding, brought them to their knees
before an infant, and brought terror to the infant's village. But it may
also bring us to our knees even if none of us has more to give than our
naked and shivering selves.
|These people were poor, fragile,
Yet they offered hospitality
to strangers, accepted their gifts with wonder in their hearts. And gave
to the comparatively rich and learned visitors, a vision of trust and wonder
that rivalled the seasons of the heavens.
What gifts do we bring
to the children of poverty?
What gifts to the children
of exile, the refugees in our streets, and in our times?
What hospitality do we show,
And what gifts do we allow
ourselves to receive?
Heeding the Signs
If it comes to that, do we
take heed to the warnings of our dreams, or to the signs of the times?
The Wars and Rumours of Wars?
|The Light in the Darkness
is a power to reveal both light and dark. They may not be what we think
they are. It is a light of Warning and a light of Grace. It seems
we can't have one without the other.
Look at any new born.
Fall to your knees.
This fragile being needs
help to survive,
and the king's soldiers seem
hell bent on destroying him, even now.
Why such violence needed
to destroy one so weak?
We need the light of meaning
on our journey through this desert,
do we not need the grace
too, of hospitality for the stranger?