+So, she would kill me if she knew I was mentioning her again in a sermon. But, my dear mother made an interesting observation the other day. She received a Christmas card this past week from one of her former neighbors—a Roman Catholic.
“I don’t understand people sending off Christmas cards after Christmas,” my mother says. “Did she just forget or what?”
I said, “Mother, it is still Christmas.”
She looked at me like I had just swore in front of her. But, her come-back was priceless.
“Well, maybe for Catholics, it’s still Christmas, but….”
I interrupted her.
“Mother,” I said. “You are now an Episcopalian,”—this, of course, was her first Christmas as an Episcopalian—“and for you it too is still Christmas, at least until Epiphany.”
Well, she mumbled and huffed once. And that was the end of that conversation. A coup, shall we say, for your Father Jamie. Over his mother.
So, yes, today is Epiphany. Christmas NOW is officially over. But only, just now. I actually love Epiphany, because I realize, I don’t think I could’ve done it. I couldn’t have followed that star. I certainly wouldn’t have followed a star with some vague (and it really was a VAGUE) notion of a king being born. It probably wouldn’t mean much to any of us in this day and age, prophecy or not. It would take great faith and great bravery to load up everything, including valuables like gold and spices into that time of highjacking and robbery and just head off into the unknown. But these men did just that. These “wise” men did something that most of us now days would think was actually naïve and dangerous. And just plain stupid.
Originally, of course, the word used for these men was “astrologers,” which does add an interesting dimension to what’s occurring here. Astrologers certainly would make sense. Astrologers certainly would have been aware of this star that appeared and they would have been able to see in that star a unique sign—a powerful enough of a sign that they packed up and went searching for it. And it certainly seems like it was a great distance. They probably came from Persia, which is now modern-day Iran. And they would’ve come in a caravan of others.
These Magi are mysterious characters, for sure. We popularly see them as the three wise men, but if you notice in our Gospel reading for today, it doesn’t say anything about there being three of them. There might have been four or five of them for all we know.
So, what is the Epiphany really? Well, the word itself—Epiphany—means “manifestation” or “appearing.” In this context, it means the manifestation of Christ among us. God, in Christ, has appeared to us. And in the story that we hear today, it is the appearing of God not only to the Jews, but to the non-Jews, as well, to the Gentiles, which we find represented in the Magi—those mysterious men from the East.
Epiphany is the manifestation of God in our midst. Epiphany is a moment of realization. It is an awakening.
In this feast we realize that God is truly among us—all of us, no matter our race, no matter our sex or our sexual orientation, or whatever. God is present with all of us. Because God loves us. Epiphany is the realization that God is among us in the person of this child, Jesus.
Over the last month or so, we, as the Church, have gone through a variety of emotions. Advent was a time of expectation. We were waiting expectantly for this God to come to us. Christmas was the time of awe. God appeared and was among us and there was something good and wonderful about this fact.
Epiphany, however, gets the rap for being sort of anti-climactic. It is the time in which we settle down into the reality of what has come upon us. We realize what has happened and we accept it. We are awakening to this fact. The reality has set in. A bit of the awe is still there. A bit of wonder still lingers. And it’s all good.
In today’s Gospel, the wise men are overcome with joy when they see the star stop over Bethlehem. But, for the most part, despite the joy they felt, we are now moving ahead. There are no more angels singing on high for us. The miraculous star has begun to fade for us by this point. The wise men have presented their gifts and are now returning home to Persia. It is a time in which we feel contentment. We feel comfortable in what has happened.
But, in a few, fairly short weeks, this is all going to change again. We will soon face the harsh reality of Ash Wednesday and Lent. Now, I know it’s hard even to think about such things as we labor through the cold and snow. But it is there—just around the corner. The time of Christmas feasting will be over. The joys and beauty of Christmas will be replaced by ashes and sackcloth and, ultimately, by the Cross.
That is why, on this Sunday, you will hear me, in a few moments, proclaim the Date of Easter, as well as the dates of ash Wednesday and the other major feasts of the year. We are moving ahead. And, as in life, joys are replaced with sorrows. There is a balance to our lives as followers of Jesus.
But that’s all in the future. In this moment, we have this warm reality. God has appeared to us, as one of us. When we look upon the face of the child Jesus, we see ourselves. But we see more. We see God as well. In this Child the divine and the mortal have come together.
And for this moment—before the denial of our bodies in Lent, before the betrayal and torture of Holy Week, before the bloody and violent murder of Good Friday, we have in our midst, this Child. We have God appearing to us in the most innocent and most beautiful form of humanity possible. It is the Child Jesus we delight in now. It is the Christ Child we find ourselves worshipping at this time. And in the Christ Child we find ourselves amazed at the many ways God chooses to be manifested in our midst. For now, we are able to look at this Child and see God in our midst. With Lent coming upon us soon, we will find God manifested in other ways—in fasting, in penitence, in turning our eyes toward the Cross.
For now, we are the Magi. We are the ones who, seeking the Christ, have found him. We are the ones who, despite everything our rational minds have told us, have decided to follow that star of faith we have seen. We, like them, have stepped out into the unknown and have searched for what we have longed for. We are the ones who have traveled the long journeys of our lives to come to this moment—to this time and to this place—and, here, we find Jesus in our midst. We have followed stars and other strange, vague signs, hoping to find some deeper meaning to our lives. We have trekked through the wastelands of our life, searching for some THING.
But our Epiphany is the realization that we have found that some THING. e have found this Child. esus has appeared to us where we are—here in our own midst.
And this is what we can take away with us today—on this feast of the Epiphany. This is the consolation we can take with us as we head through these short, cold, snow-filled days toward Lent. No matter where we are—no matter who we are—Christ is here with us. Loving us. Accepting us. Inviting us to follow. Christ is with us in all that we do and every place we look.
So, let us look. And let us find him. Let us find him in our midst—here in our very lives. He is here with us. And whenever we recognize him in our midst—in those around us we love, in those who come to us seeking our help, in those we serve—that moment of recogintion of Jesus is our unending feast day of Epiphany.