I will miss Epiphany. It’s called the season of light because for these few weeks between Christmas and Lent we allow the light of the Christmas star to illuminate our hearts and minds with a new understanding of who Jesus was, and who he still is for each of us.
This year there were only six weeks in Epiphany. That was just long enough to get a good look at Jesus and think about who this baby, born in a manger, might really be. Was he a prophet, an itinerant rabbi, a son of God like the Caesars, was he divine or human, or was he something altogether different? The truth is that followers of Jesus have been arguing about this for as long as we’ve had a religion. When one view or another gains ascendency the other views become heresies.
The truth is that we do not know the true nature of Jesus any more than we can grasp the nature of the God who somehow made him and sent him. Oh, sure, we can all state the orthodox position. That is the view that is now in the ascendency. But, I think a lot of us wonder. And that’s OK. We are here to be in love with God, not to understand God.
Still, we learned some things during Epiphany. On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, for example, we thought about the gifts we have received and the gifts we might offer back to God. We saw that God is not that interested in sacrifice. What he really wants is our broken spirits and contrite hearts.
By the time we got to the second Sunday after the Epiphany Jesus had been claimed in baptism, and he immediately started claiming others. He called his first four followers and they entered into a wild world of unknown adventures and we saw that we might be in for a wild ride too.
On the third Sunday after the Epiphany, we went on a different kind of fishing trip and learned that whatever comes to us in the nets of life, Jesus is with us. We can’t see what’s down in the depths, but we can raise it up and get a good look at things. We don’t have to handle the sea creatures of life alone, we just have to keep fishing.
Then things got really exciting as we read about demon possession! One of the demons we have to cast out is the demon of the status quo or going along to get along. And again, we see that Jesus is with us, and he has power over demons too. The light shined and we started to get a good look at this Christmas baby.
On the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, we noticed that Jesus likes to hold hands. He is with us, he has power over demons, and he reaches out, connects, and holds our hands. If he is a God, then he is clearly a God with a body. He touches… And we have learned a little more about Jesus.
Lent is a time of turning. We are going to turn now from learning about Jesus, to learning more about ourselves. The Christmas light will now shine on our own hearts, illuminating the corners of our lives, the reality behind who we say we are. The fun times of learning about Jesus are over, and the work of becoming his followers is beginning. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, and now we must choose either to go with him or just linger on the fringes until Easter.
To linger is tempting. I know. I don’t want to give up anything, after all. But Lent is about more than giving something up. More, even, than taking something on. There are probably a thousand or more good things you could do for Lent, but unless you allow the light of the world to shine gently in your own life, you will not really be doing it right. Sorry to report that.
As we progress through these six weeks of repentance and fasting, you may find that you have some pretty big sins to repent of and some pretty big changes to make. Don’t worry, no matter how much sin you’ve piled up, Allah has pilled up more grace. God is full of mercy and quick to forgive. I think it’s more likely, though, that you will find yourself turning, carefully. You may be led to turn towards some things, or you might turn away from other things. This work requires bravery and even some skill. But you have all you need. God sees to that.
This week as we turn to the dark spring of Lent, we have been given a little light. We know something of Jesus. There’s a lot we don’t know too. Be assured, though, that as your priest calls you to observe a holy Lent, that you are not alone. The transparent, blazing, transfigured Christ, and the fleshy rabbi named Jesus, hold your hand.
Linda McMillan is in Qurayat, Saudi Arabia.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Some people think that Epiphany is only one day, January 6. And that’s the day we remember the Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior who visited Jesus and brought him gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. But, in The Episcopal Church, Epiphany is a whole season. Some years it is only four weeks long, but it can be as long as nine weeks. Like a lot of things on the calendar, it depends on the date of Easter. (Extra credit if you know how to find the date of Easter without using Google.)
The dark spring of Lent… It is typically quite dark during this time of year, though getting lighter. And, of course, it depends on where you live. But Lent is an old Teutonic word that means Spring. It is sort of a tension, I think, this darkness and the hope of Spring too.
The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuva. It means turning.