Keep lights shining beyond New Year’s Day
Published 10:05 pm Friday, January 4, 2019
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart.”
– Howard Thurman
The season of Epiphany follows Christmastide. It begins the 12th night following the birth of Jesus commemorating the visit of the three kings (Jan. 6.) These kings or ‘wise’ men who through legend are named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, followed the star of Bethlehem across the desert directed by a star. They arrived mistakenly at the palace of King Herod who knew nothing of the star or the birth of a king. Moving on, the star led them to the young child Jesus. To Mary, Jesus’ mother, they offered gifts of gold, in recognition of his royal standing; frankincense, in recognition of his divine birth; and myrrh, a spice for mortal use.
The word ‘Epiphany’ means manifestation. It is the revelation of God having appeared through the baby Jesus whose birth we celebrate annually. For centuries, Dec. 25 or Christmas Day was secondary to Epiphany. European Christians celebrated the 12th night singing carols house to house known as ‘wassailing.’ In Spanish culture, especially in the islands of the Caribbean, and throughout the America’s, Epiphany is known as Dia de los Reyes and is a festival day of greater significance than is Christmas.
Epiphany gives meaning to the birth of the Savior of the world in a context greater than the scene we are given in the gospel according to Luke. For in that gospel, the angels reveal to shepherds who leave their sheep to search for the baby. When they have found what had been told them, they left rejoicing. This is the ‘Peanuts’ story as in the Charles Shultz’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the chaos of the moment is brought to a close as the character Linus takes center stage and quotes directly from the gospel of Luke, “And it came to pass … .”
More is needed in the world than to merely celebrate a historic moment where “it came to pass.” It is important to remember that Jesus was born not singularly for the Hebrew people. The kings represented three continents known to most at the time: Europe, Asia and Africa. That was the known world of that age. When Matthew’s gospel introduces us to these representatives, we are to take note. The God of all creation intends to be recognized by all who long for his powerful presence to be with them not just in story but as the gospel writer John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of truth and grace.” (John 1:14)
Celebrating Christmas is nice and has been made festive though it seems to have been taken over and become a mostly secular event. Celebrating Epiphany holds more meaning for me. Epiphany offers a reminder of the greatness of God’s love that does not abandon us, nor is it a love that is exclusive or conditional. Whereas Christmas focuses upon the tiny baby born in a manger, the focus of Epiphany is upon me and my challenge not simply to revisit the manger, but to visit and offer my gifts to my Savior, Jesus Christ. Epiphany reminds me that the blessings of God are bestowed beyond Bethlehem and the Herod’s of the world cannot control the message of God for the world.
As the wise men took a different route home to avoid the evil of King Herod, I pray that we shall seek new routes to proclaim the grace and truth that dispels the darkness and brings light to all people. So, keep the lights shining beyond New Year’s Day and remember the “beautiful star that guides our way unto a land of perfect day.”
Your servant in Christ,