by Linda Ryan
What a week it’s been with all sorts of things going on, like the Martin Luther King Day celebrations, commemorating a great American who made civil rights a very familiar and important expression. At the other end of the week we have had the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, to the overwhelming joy of some and much less enthusiasm on the part of others. It’s a beginning, and everybody wonders where this new administration is going to take us. And then, today, I’d venture to say millions of Americans, many if not most of them women, are marching in Washington DC and in almost every state in the union to call attention to the fact that women are not second-class citizens, do not need men to make decisions for them, especially when it comes to their bodies and their abilities, and that they aren’t afraid to take a stand. Like I say, it’s been quite a week.
The one thing that I have been thinking of today is the fact that with all the chaos, confusion, upset, enthusiasm, and just about every other emotional response that can be made, we, as Christians and as Episcopalians, are in the season of Epiphany, a season of the liturgical year that encourages us to seek out new insights, new ideas, new ways of doing things, and all working together, in hopes of bringing about the kingdom of God. It’s an ambitious thing. It’s more exuberant than Advent, which is kind of an introspective season, it’s not as overwhelmingly celebratory like Christmas, but it provides a bridge between the joy of Christmas and the solemnity of Lent. Epiphany gives us time to think, to process where we are, where we need to go, and how we need to get there. I’m glad it’s here. This year, more than ever, I need Epiphany.
It’s been hard over the last year to focus on anything other than what’s going to happen. Okay, it’s happened, and now we have to fix our minds on what next? That is always a rather complicated question. Many are confused and worried, afraid that the very programs that they depend on will be eliminated in favor of programs that benefit the people who make up the 1% of our country. How are we going to respond? How do 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 really don’t want to know the answer, though. That’s why we need Epiphany.
Jesus has given us a number of 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.” 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 all those words are highly subjective; you can’t nail them down to the floor, as much as you’d like to. What Jesus intended was what God had intended all along: that people get along together, people work to help each other, people take care of their neighbors, they work to make the stranger feel welcome, they feed the hungry, clothe those who are lacking, visit those who are in prison, and any one of a number of ministries that make the world better. So, perhaps resolution number one should be to pick up our feet, put away our Kleenexes and handkerchiefs, lift our heads, and start moving. God is depending on all of us, and we should look to help those who are looking to us to help.
One thing about Epiphany is that it celebrates three strangers, three magi, who saw a star in the east and followed it to find out what it meant and where it was going. Where it brought them was 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 magi were warned to go home by different way to avoid returning to Herod and possibly setting him on the track of the one person he probably feared more than it any other at that moment.
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 just to make sure we can be aware of pitfalls, potholes, and speed bumps, but you don’t really participate in the world by simply looking down. Now and again you have to look up, look for guidance, look for a star to keep you on course and keep reminding you that the ground beneath you isn’t the only thing that will keep you going.
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.
Look up. Look to the star.
Image: By Pleiades_large.jpg: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatoryderivative work: Roberto Segnali all’Indiano (Pleiades_large.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons