After the Twelve Days of Christmas is Epiphany. It kicks off the most important season of the church year– better than Christmas, stronger than Easter, able to leap Pentecost in a single liturgical bound.
At this point in the post, I pause for a number of you to scoot to the edge of your seat in fascination, and the rest to politely excuse yourselves to do anything else you can think of.
Bob Webber called Advent-Christmas-Epiphany “The Cycle of Light,” (unrelated to Tron). If Advent is about longing and preparing for Christ’s presence and Christmas rejoices in the eternal breakthrough of God-With-Us, then Epiphany is about manifesting the Christ.
Which, in my humbly-justified, sinner-saintly opinion, is the Point of the church.
It’s too bad only 11 percent of church-goers know what Epiphany is about. (Okay, I actually made that stat up. But shocking, right?)
The church exists to reveal, proclaim and embody the Christ. If that seems like a funky new theology, note that the New Testament people of God are collectively called the Body of Christ (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12). That’s a metaphor for the physical manifestation of presence.
It’s the Incarnation kicked up a notch.
We hear some strong stories in the Epiphany season, among them:
- The Magi pilgrimage with gifts: devotion made manifest.
- Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine! Your light has come… and nations shall come to your light.” We occupy with our lives what’s otherwise 99% invisible.
- Jesus is baptized by his cousin John, J’s anointing revealed publicly. (The Baptizer played by Johnny Depp.)
- At the Cana wedding party J does water to wine, saying something about “his time” coming, the first of seven signs of transformation in John.
- J calls and trains the disciples– gathering, equipping, sending.
- The Transfiguration. Glory in the ordinary leaves us sputtering in awe.
To me, all these stories are images of transformation, inviting us to imagine what’s possible in a life. What a great way to begin a new calendar year.
In these Epiphany stories, God is up to something brilliantly earthy and mystically intuitive: Christ is to be found in the ordinary, even enacted in you and me with all our uniqueness, embodied in us together.
Look up “Christ, Body of” in the dictionary, and you see a family picture of all of us (that’s all) with J. Our Celtic brothers and sisters would not leave out the earth itself, insisting we honor God ‘s presence in all of creation.
Of course, there are other ways to put it:
- My “conservative” Christian friends speak in terms of evangelism, proclaiming God’s love to all the world. Yes, that’s it.
- For my “liberal” Christian friends it’s the call to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, making a difference in creation. Absolutely.
- My Buddhist friends work with radical compassion, recognizing that everything is impermanent– the world can change, and we can be part of it. Amen and gassho to that.
- My New Age friends speak about manifesting divinity in our lives. Sure, that’s it, too.
- My Muslim friends are clear about his call to serve the world, enriching human fitrah.
- I don’t have any close Jewish friends these days, but I am thinking how beautifully Hebrew Covenant is embodied in family, politics, religion, meal, prayer, story and song. Yes!
- My pagan friends are committed to actively honoring the holy in each and every piece of creation.
- For my atheist-leaning friends, there’s transcendent purpose in doing good on behalf of ourselves and the world.
- Mr. Rogers taught me it’s good to share who you are and what you have. Our eleven-year-old knows it.
As the New Year turns, we take stock of last year and let it go. Then we turn, taking a deep breath with some hope and some trembling as we face another year. Our call as humanity has never been clearer: we are important to one another. We are designed– mind, body, soul and strength– to be of influence and to work/play together to be of even greater influence. This is the metaphoric Light of Isaiah and of the gospels. Didn’t J say not only, “I am the light of the world” but also, “You are the light of the world?”
In Epiphany, this is a moment to celebrate this is how the universe works. We might also meditate on the poignancy of just how connected we all are.
How might this Epiphany be a time of renewal for your local church? Time to celebrate your light that naturally shines, to consider how you are embodying the Christ, and how God is leading you more deeply in and in some cases farther out.
Here’s a short but juicy song for you and your community this Epiphany: “Your Light Has Come” crystallized from a great discussion with Marcia McFee‘s Worship Design Studio a couple of years ago.
The lyrics reflect a post-modern paraphrase of Isaiah 60:
Lift your head, raise your eyes, look around:
Your light has come! your light has come!
Light the world, heal the earth, bear the Christ:
Your light has come! your light has come!
Here’s to the New Year with a Eucharistic toast all together.