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6 January

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.
The Shining

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 their parents.

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 out.

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 hearts.

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 individual.
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, vulnerable.
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, what generosity?
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?

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