.
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
:

Epiphany
by barry brake

editor's note: this is the final installment
in a series on the Christian calendar
by Barry Brake - special to Communiqué

A couple of years back I had an epiphany. A minister of mine, Jim Graham, pointed out that probably not a lot of people noticed the star that marked Jesus's birth. It hadn't occurred to me. Our iconography is dominated by images of a huge, unavoidable astronomical event. In Ben-Hur, after all, we see crowds cowering before a huge meteor; as children we drew a giant star larger than the sun would have been. But in reality, of course, supernovas appear all the time, and they're the same size as other stars, and no one notices besides astronomers.

And, two thousand years ago, Magi. Scholars from the school of Hermes Trismegistus. Persian guys who didn't have the Bible, didn't worship Jehovah, weren't among the chosen people, but who looked to the sky for meaning, and found it. And, like all good scholars, they put their knowledge into action: they got gifts fit for a king, and went where their books told them to go. (Ah, to see those books and find the pagan passage that sent them to Judea!). At Pentecost, the word of God went out into the world. At Epiphany, the world shows up at God's door.

 

EPIPHANY

PROTO INDO-EUROPEAN *bhan-yo- to shine

GREEK phainein to bring to light, to cause to appear, to show;

epiphainein to manifest, epiphaineia appearance

LATIN epiphania

MIDDLE FRENCH epiphanie

MIDDLE ENGLISH epiphanie

Epiphany n (first in print in 14th c): a festival observed on January 6, commemorating the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; an appearance or manifestation esp. of a divine being; a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking

 


We can't get away from thinking of this time of year as a beginning. But the Church calls it a time of arrival. The year is already over a month old, having begun with Advent. So, after the twelve days of Christmastide, we have Epiphany, a celebration of the arrival of the Magi. And of a sudden realization: that this child isn't just for the Us, but also for the Them.

For some churches, Epiphany is one day, and then we're in Pre-Lent, a countdown to Lent in which the Sundays are named for the number of days till Easter (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, etc.). But others consider the days leading up to Ash Wednesday as the Epiphany Season. An entire season dedicated to appearances, evidences, signs, presences, realizations: the guiding of a newly appeared star; the showing-up of these strange foreigners who materialized at the house of Joseph (can we imagine that the whole town didn't stir?); the realization of Christ to everyone who ever lived, not just his own countrymen; the shocking awareness that he is in fact the savior of the world, the world.

In these days, that truth is sometimes an uncomfortable one. They say, How nice that you've found inner peace through Christ, that he is a savior for you, but don't go bashing me over the head with it. It's often seen as the ultimate arrogance that I might come out and say that everyone needs Christ, even those who don't think they do, and even those who have never heard of him. That sort of triumphalism belongs to an earlier, uglier era, most people think.

But the season of Epiphany is a time for us to realize that although some of the lost are asleep in a nighttime of lostness, others are outside craning their necks for a sign, ready to follow whatever appears, make whatever journey is necessary for them to find redemption.

I've mentioned before that everyone has the ancient urge to find meaning in things: we get the January 6th date, in fact, from an Egyptian festival celebrating the overflowing of the banks of the Nile. How fitting, then, that we use that date to celebrate a Christ who is too big for the categories, who cannot be contained within the chosen people but must go and choose the unchosen as well, must make himself manifest before every tribe and nation.

And for those who seek, what are the tools of that manifestation? A star, a page from a pagan book, the council of a hostile king. A word, a gesture, a guidance from you and me, who have been called, improbably, outlandishly, the Light of the World.

If the battle-cry of Pentecost must be Christ's charge to go into the world and make disciples and baptize, then the battle-cry of Epiphany must be his charge to let our light shine before all, so that wherever they may be, whatever religion or philosophy their starting-point, their end will be to lay their gold before the king.

My wish for you this Epiphany season, this reverberation of rich celebration before the leanness of Lent, is that you will realize Christ in your life -- that you will have the Aha of awareness and insight that will make him real to you -- and that his presence, his manifestation in you, will overflow your banks. And will gush out effortlessly to the crooked and dark generation that surrounds us.

 

 


©1996-2003 Communiqué: A Quarterly Journal. All Rights Reserved.