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Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures:
Epiphany (Jan.6): Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
First Sunday After Epiphany - Baptism of the Lord (Jan. 8): Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29:1-11, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Friday begins the season of Epiphany in the life of the church. I’m pretty sure it’s one of Pastor Rick’s favorite seasons, so much so that he launched it last Sunday using the readings for the day of Epiphany. Since I was still in the Christmas season last week, I’ve included those readings (as well as the readings for this coming Sunday) as I encourage us to reflect on what it means to “experience” epiphany.

“Epiphany” means “manifestation.” In the church calendar it is a celebration of the manifestation of God in human form, particularly in the form of a baby. It is a day when we celebrate the coming of the Magi (as representatives of the Gentile world) to worship the child. Both are astounding moments of insight if our awe generators are working. Who could imagine looking at a baby and seeing God? Who could imagine that a Jewish child born in an obscure location in the humblest of circumstances would give rise to a movement with such inclusiveness—eventually reaching around the world? If this is a manifestation of God it is startlingly eye-opening, a moment when the light in our hearts and minds illumines life in a way that brings an “Aha” to our lips.

The word “epiphany” is sometimes used to describe “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.” The season of Epiphany is often associated with light. Light illumines. It can bathe simple things in shimmering light so that we see them in new ways—ways that cause us to say, “Aha!” In homely terms, cartoons often use a light bulb over a person’s head to suggest a sudden insight. The light has suddenly turned on for that person.

The First Sunday After Epiphany usually focuses upon the baptism of Jesus, and on readings which call us to consider the deeper meanings of our own baptism. Scripturally, a distinction is made between the baptism practiced by John, the Baptizer (the one who baptized Jesus), and the baptism done in the name of Jesus. (It is not clear that Jesus himself ever physically baptized anyone. Note, for instance, that while John 4:1 speaks of Jesus “making and baptizing more disciples than John, the next verse says, “although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized . . .”)

John’s baptism is described as “with water,” while Jesus’ baptism is a more inward reality, receiving the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. (Mark 1:8—Two of the readings for this coming Sunday deal with that distinction: Acts 19:1-7 and Mark 1:4-11) Baptism seems to be less about an outward ritual and more about an inner transformation.

Quakers speak of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as an “inner light.” If epiphany is about light and illumination, it appears that baptism is as well. Those “aha” moments occur when that inner light stirs an insight alerting us that we, even in very ordinary moments, may be standing on holy ground.

All of those themes come together as we consider this week’s readings, calling us to be alert to “aha” moments when we notice a strange glow about life. Is Love being born? Is God trying to get our attention?

Light enters in the third verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:3—“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” And we are told that “God saw that the light was good . . .” (vs. 4) Throughout the darkest days, God’s people never gave up hope that they would again be bathed in light. Isaiah 60 declares a new era of light: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you . . . Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (vss. 1 & 3)

The word “glory” refers to a shine or glow that emanates from a person. Psalm 29, which speaks repeatedly of God’s “glory”, is a hymn that celebrates the light with which God illumines life. “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name.” (vss. 1-2)

Notice that, back in Isaiah 60, that the light of the Lord penetrates our being and makes us “radiant.” (vs. 5) Epiphanies do not just occur in our private, inner, being. They make a difference in life. Psalm 72 can be seen as a prayer for a king who is so filled with light that he judges the “people with righteousness, and your poor with justice . . . May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor . . . he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.” (vss. 2, 4, 12-13) Epiphanies, so often absent from the halls of government, may come in the strangest of places—even in the cries and faces of those who rise up in the name of justice. “Aha,” one might be moved to say, I have seen (along with Mother Theresa) the face of God. God is working here and I might have missed it. Light is here is the midst of what many might think of as a dark place.

Earlier we mentioned the “epiphany” of realizing the inclusiveness of God’s Love. Many in Jesus’ day had forgotten that God’s call to the Hebrew people was to be a “light to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) When God blessed Abraham, it was “so that you will be a blessing . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) The Magi, in the Gospel reading for the day of Epiphany, symbolize the reach of the light (in this case, a star) to regions beyond the confines to which human boundary-makers are prone to confine it.

The reading from Ephesians, chapter three, speaks of the same boundary-breaking “mystery.” (Is “mystery” perhaps a word akin to “epiphany”?) Paul is presented as the custodian of a mystery “made known to me by revelation . . . that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel.” (vss. 3 & 6)

Epiphany moments are times when life may suddenly become larger than we had ever imagined it. We may discover connections with people in new ways.

During the Epiphany season, let’s look both inward and outward, prepared to find life glowing with possibility. When it happens, there will be “ahas,” quietly whispered or shouted out loud, and we will know that an epiphany has occurred!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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