Saturday, January 8, 2011

Light and Life: Epiphany

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
risen with healing in His wings.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
-- Charles Wesley(1707-1788), 1739
A little light-hearted (pun intended) offering for today:

Several days ago, we marked the end of the Christmas season on Epiphany (January 6), the celebration of the arrival of the Magi at the stable in Bethlehem. Never mind that the chronology is problematic (i.e. how did they get there in 12 days, and why were Joseph and Mary in the same spot 12 days later, but I digress...). The point (I think...) is that Jesus was worshipped by Jew and Gentile alike from the moment of his birth--there was a recognition that God was doing something new and momentous in the world.

I always choke a bit on Christmas carols, such as Away in a Manger, that like to romanticize the birth narrative of Jesus. There is a sense from these songs that Mary and Joseph wandered into the sleepy little town of Bethlehem after a quick trip down the interstate, dropped by a local Motel 6, saw a "No Vacancy" sign, and settled into a nice comfortable stable where Jesus was born in serene silence with some nice heavenly music playing in the background. To the extent that the story is accurate, what you really have is a young couple forced by the authorities (occupying forces, no less) to make a perilous journey through often dangerous places to a town that had probably quadrupled in population, likely spending at least hours if not days trying to find somewhere, anywhere safe, to have a child that was literally in the process of being born and finally ending up in a cave or shabby outbuilding amongst none-too-clean animals and finding only a feeding trough to lay the newborn Jesus in as Roman soldiers patrolled the streets outside on alert for trouble. I'm guessing that Jesus probably was like most other children and screamed his lungs out at his birth. So, the story is pretty much of a young couple in trying circumstances having a baby in a filthy stable after being exhausted by travel and a fruitless search to find adequate lodging. Hardly the scene for the most important birth in human history!

Oddly enough, the story of the Prince of Peace being born in less-than-ideal circumstances, into a highly unsafe territory occupied by Roman forces gives me plenty of comfort. As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday, Jesus is not born into peace, Jesus is our peace. God did not wait for ideal circumstances to break into the world in the person of Jesus--the flight into Egypt to avoid Herod's massacre of the children of Bethlehem demonstrates that. What God does do is come into our messy, harried, less-than-ideal lives and transforms them from the inside out. Slowly, even imperceptibly, but constantly and surely.

That's really what this Epiphany season is all about: light in darkness. The liturgical season of Epiphany highlights that in the midst of the winter darkness and cold, the light of Christ breaks in, warming and illuminating our lives. How will we each carry that light into the world?