Posted by: smstrouse | January 7, 2012

Epiphany: Mystical and Magi-cal

There are so many reasons to love the Epiphany season. First of all: it’s a season!  In my congregation, we observe Epiphany on the Sunday closest to January 6. How sad it would be to miss this wonder-ful, mystical, magi-cal moment in the Christmas story.  Just when most of the world (except for those cultures that actually observe Christmas on January 6) are putting away the decorations and moaning about the post-holiday letdown, here comes Epiphany! With magi and a star and fabulous presents!  What’s not to love?

I admit that I have a bias for Epiphany; it’s my favorite day on the church calendar. I waited patiently through the Twelve Days of Christmas until it was time to add the magi to the Nativity scene. I lit my Moravian star and brought out the amazing collectible plate that I found on ebay last year. 

What is it about this day that is so appealing? And why should we continue to think about it for a whole season (at First United we continue the season right up until Ash Wednesday; we’ve even decided to use the color blue, instead of the traditional green)?

Lest you think that this is simply my personal fondness for foreign men in robes bearing expensive gifts, let me explain my love of Epiphany.

1)  It illustrates the boundary-crossing nature of God, which we will see revealed in the life of Jesus. The magi were from a foreign land and of a different religion. Yes, I’d be even happier if at least one of them had been a woman. Still, they represent the wider world and remind us to look beyond our narrow enclaves of country, ethnicity, tradition, etc.

2)  To repeat from above: the magi were of a different religion, probably Zoroastrian. Epiphany is the perfect season to highlight our interfaith relationships in our communities. Following the lead of the magi, we are able to cross over into the realm of a different tradition and then go back to our own. The magi do not become Jews. Mary and Joseph do not become Zoroastrians.

3)  The story reminds us that the realm of God is not like the realm of Herod – or any other political system. We need to pay attention to our dreams when they tell us to beware of politicians’ promises and hidden agendas.

4)  There is mystery inherent in a star.  While we don’t have to take this story as a historical event and speculate about whether the star was a comet or the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (either way, no celestial body would start and stop the way Matthew describes), we can still appreciate the wonder of the tale. Light guides us through the darkness; divine light guides us through life. According to a nifty little book I discovered this year called the Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem,  the star was in fact the celestial Christ. The book by Dr. Brent Landau includes the first English translation of an ancient manuscript, possibly from the late 2nd century, and is a thought-provoking addition to the tale told by Matthew.

All-in-all, Epiphany brings us the Christmas message in a different way from the sweet Nativity of Christmas Eve, but an important way nonetheless. So if you’re feeling the post-Christmas blues, I encourage you to follow the star into Epiphany.

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