According to both the Ambrosian (liturgical) and the Roman calendars, this is a new year. So far, it doesn’t feel different from last year, except that the politics are a tad different (not much, but also noticeably). There are still threats of increasing pandemic cases and deaths, just when people had started feeling safe again. The weather has been atrocious all over the country, with people stuck on blocked freeways and roads for hours, and more. Store shelves are starting to look a bit bare in spots because of transportation difficulties and labor shortages. We’ve just finished the Christmas season, and the decorations back in storage, leaving the world ordinary. For the most part, life goes on with its normal rhythms and patterns.
The one thing that I have been thinking of is the fact that with all the chaos, confusion, upset, enthusiasm, and just about every other emotional response we experience, is that we, as Christians and as Episcopalians, are in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is the church season that encourages us to seek out new insights, new ideas, new ways of doing things. It enables us to work together to bring about the kingdom of God. It’s an ambitious season, more exuberant than Advent, the reflective season, but not as celebratory as Christmas. Nor does Epiphany plod along like the long season of Pentecost. Epiphany offers a simple bridge between the joy of Christmas and the solemnity of Lent. It gives us time to think, process where we are, where we need to go, and how we need to get there.
This year, more than ever, I need Epiphany.
It’s been hard over the last year to focus on anything other than what’s might happen. Well, now it has happened, so we fix our minds on what’s next? What’s next is complicated. People are confused and worried, afraid that somebody will eliminate the very programs they depend upon in favor of programs that benefit the few. How will we respond? How will we go on from here? We can always ask the question, what would Jesus do? It seems like many people who ask the question seldom want to know the answer, though. That’s why we need Epiphany.
Jesus has given us instructions, echoing passages like Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.” It sounds easy, but then we have to worry about whose definition of justice, love, mercy, and walking with God we’re going to follow. Unfortunately, the words become subjective; we can’t nail them down to the floor as much as we might like to.
What Jesus intended to teach was what God had planned all along: that people get along together, work to help each other, take care of their neighbors, work to make the stranger feel welcome, feed the hungry, clothe those who are lacking, visit those who are in prison, and any one of many ministries that make the world better. So, perhaps a beneficial resolution would be to pick up our feet, put away our Kleenexes and handkerchiefs, lift our heads, and start moving. God depends on all of us, and we should look to help those looking to us for help.
Epiphany celebrates three strangers, the magi, who saw a star in the east and followed it to find out what it meant and where it was going. It brought them to Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus was born. It also brought them into collision with Herod, who wanted to know all about this miracle child, and not for the best of motives. It doesn’t do to be a ruler if you have to worry about even a tiny baby usurping your power position and even your crown. The wise men received a warning to go home via a way other than their original one to avoid returning to Herod and possibly setting him on the track of the one person he probably feared more than any other.
The magi followed the star. They didn’t get where they were going by simply watching the ground to make sure that they weren’t stepping into any holes or falling over rocks or damaging their animals, who might possibly do any of those things as well. Yes, it’s okay to check the ground now and then simply to make sure we can be aware of pitfalls, potholes, and speed bumps. Still, we don’t really participate in the world by simply looking down. Now and again, we have to look up, look for guidance, for a star to keep us on course, and keep reminding ourselves that the ground beneath us isn’t the only thing that will keep us going unharmed.
This Epiphany, let’s practice looking up, looking for a star, and not just hanging our heads and hiding our eyes from what’s in front of us for fear of what’s going to happen in the next step or two that we take. Follow the star, keep the faith, and plunge ahead. Jesus didn’t change the world by sitting and wringing his hands. Had he done so, he wouldn’t have been God’s son.
Look up. Look to the star.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.