The Feast of Epiphany
January 6, 2020
Holy Feasts for a Fragile Planet #1 – by David R. Weiss
The season of Christmas has ended. What comes now, after those quiet moments at the manger? First, perhaps we need to remember that while the manger might have seemed a quiet holy place in many of our church sanctuaries—even a cute holy place when populated by our own children in pageants—that first manger was holy in ways quite other than quiet.
Its holiness was because it was musty, dusty, filled with the smells and sounds of animals (and likely people, too—most first century mangers were a bit like open bay windows linking a living area for humans to the adjoining stable). Its holiness was because in this place—in the very midst of poor peasants and their livestock—came the claim that Here, too, is God. That’s Christmas.
Now we turn to Epiphany, which means “manifestation”: to appear or to become apparent. It’s often linked to the visit of the Magi. Led by the star, their visit to the infant Jesus signals his “manifestation” to the wider world via these sages from the East. No longer known only to his family, shepherds, and those who follow the local gossip, with the Magi Jesus is thrown open to the world.
But don’t get tripped up by historical questions. (If Jesus was really visited by astrologers at his birth who gave him precious gifts, then wasn’t his specialness evident to everyone from then on?) These tales reflect truth cast backward into the story from its end. And the truth is that the ripple of Jesus’ life longs to reach outward from Bethlehem and Nazareth, from Galilee and Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth. The Magi tell us that.
But Epiphany also is about the “appearance” of Jesus into his adult years. In this season we’ll recall his presentation in the Temple as a child, where he is blessed (made manifest to others) by the elderly Simeon and Anna. We’ll hear about his baptism in the river Jordan, where along with others he chooses to immerse himself in the repentance John calls for. We’ll see him collect his first followers, and hear him offer the Sermon on the Mount. Each act is a glimpse at Jesus becoming more and more himself—which is to become the whirlwind of God’s compassion moving in the midst of this world.
As we move into the season of Epiphany in 2020, our world is literally and figuratively on fire. From the bush fires of Australia to the incendiary unrest in the Middle East to the angry polarized voices in our news media and on our social media. We are wise to seek out moments of epiphany, glimpses of God’s presence in our midst today.
But where? I’ll hazard a few guesses. In the midst of the poor, including those displaced by or fleeing the bush fires made so much worse by climate change. Alongside the nearly 500 million animals killed by those fires. Because Epiphany begins with the declaration that in Jesus God’s presence reaches to the ends of the world. Among those of us who dare to immerse ourselves in acts of repentance for a wounded planet today. And among those of us who gather to follow Jesus still today, choosing to become the selves we are called to be. Daring to echo the Sermon on the Mount in our lives, willing to become the whirlwind of God’s compassion moving in the midst of our world.
Epiphany happens in the midst of climate crisis, reminding us that God is here, not as some hero, but as One stepping alongside us and calling us into discipleship here today.
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Holy Feasts for a Fragile Planet is a series of occasional reflections linking Feast Days and Commemorations of the church year to the work of healing our planet. Find my 2019 collection of “Gospel in Transition” blogs and subscribe to my current writing at www.davidrweiss.com. Contact me at drw59mn(at)gmail.com. Learn how you can support me in my endeavor to do Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.