Posted by: smstrouse | January 4, 2013

Why Epiphany Is This Progressive Christian’s Favorite Holiday

How do I love thee, O Epiphany? Let me count the ways!

First of all, you’re not Christmas, at least not the Christmas that includes all the cultural folderol that goes along with the days between Thanksgiving and New Years.  I may not be the complete Grinch I used to be, but if it were up to me we’d go right from Advent into Epiphany.  I say give Christmas over as a cultural celebration that can be enjoyed – or not – by people of any or no religion. That would solve so many problems, wouldn’t it? Although I really did enjoy the quiet beauty of Lessons and Carols on the 30th even though, sadly, very few people were in attendance.

Second thing I love about Epiphany is the story. Why I never had the same trouble with the part of the Nativity story with the Magi and the star that I had with the shepherds, innkeeper, baby Jesus part, I do not know. Once I had deconstructed my belief in literal and historical accuracy, I was able to appreciate the birth story, but not really love it – not the same way I love the gospel for Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word . . .”  I suppose this somewhat explains my adoration of the Magi.  They are mysterious, exotic, so out of place in the rest of the story.  The star they followed was also mysterious, a cosmic anomaly, linking so beautifully with John’s words: “the light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The truth embedded in the myth is so apparent, and so relevant.

Next, I love the fact that these Magi were Others. Not only were they from another country (Iran or Iraq, for heaven’s sake), they were also of another religion, probably Zoroastrian.  No other place in our sacred texts highlights for me as much as this one the interconnectedness of all humankind – regardless of nationality, race, religion, or whatever.  By placing the Magi in the Nativity story, Matthew created a highly relevant scenario for us today in our relationships with other cultural and religious traditions.

Matthew also created a portrayal of speaking truth to power. The juxtaposition of the Magi with King Herod is no less in evidence in today’s world.  The stark contrast Herod’s culture of fear and the Magi’s openness to wonder offers us the same choice in our own worldview.  Shall we submit to those forces that work so hard to keep us afraid – especially of the Other?  What is it that truly makes us secure:  more guns, better security systems, enhanced interrogation techniques, erosion of civil rights? The arrival of the Magi brings a smorgasbord of subversion into the story. Every Christmas pageant with kids in bathrobes wearing paper crowns is a poke in the eye of the powers that be.

So much to love in this wonder-ful, mysterious, inclusive, boundary-smashing tale, the quintessential gospel for progressive Christians to embrace.  Did it historically happen? No.  But as Native American storytellers begin a tale: “Now, I don’t know that it happened just this way, but I do know that it’s true.”


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