We drove home on Epiphany.
Many people seem to have no awareness of Epiphany. The revelation to the gentiles (that’s us) as signaled in the visit of the Wise Men (Matthew Chapter 2) is typically compressed chronologically and clumped together with the announcement to the shepherds. Children’s Christmas pageants, even Christmas carols and of course the lovely nativity scenes describe quite the merry party with everyone pressing in on the exhausted mother and child all at once. The Angel and the star are conflated and stripped of their separate meaning. In the hurry and rush of the season it forms a more efficient package that way. The Incarnation is quickly unwrapped then quickly packed up and our trivialized attention moves on to the secular “new year.”
The reformed protestant church we currently attend, while firmly faithful to the Word, doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar of the Church. It’s quite different from what I’m used to and I remember being appalled in June when there was not even a mention of Pentecost. It didn’t fit the sermon series I suppose. Then there was no observation of Advent, so I knew not to expect Epiphany. I miss the signs and seasons, rhythms and reminders provided by the Church calendar.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Isaiah 60:1-2
Thick darkness indeed.
At the beginning of the new year we were “in the middle of nowhere” as our daughter describes it. We had “limited connection” as our cell phones described it; offline. But the thick darkness of the news still reached us, and thick darkness of winter covered us. The resulting snow offered a bright respite for a day; fresh air, a fresh view (a nature fix) for our tired eyes, bracing cold and a velvety sky rich with stars that evening ~ a living metaphor for life in Christ.
Visits from our children have also been times of brightness and joy during the Christmas season. But, there is no point in denying that at the beginning of 2022 we are in a season of thick darkness. The better to seek the light. Mr. Garner and I have long noticed how much we crave the light once the sun is setting early, and rising late. Christmas lights come at just the right time as the northern half of the earth tilts away from the sun.
Yet it has to be the right quality of light. Not the appalling brain-stabbing brightness of the over-lit Walmart distribution center we passed. No, it is more the rural houses, the small shops, the fir trees on a hill, still twinkling with Christmas cheer after everyone else has put it away. I was sad about the lack of Epiphany in our lives this year, and yet we found it driving home through Southern Virginia.
In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5.
It is always timely to celebrate the Light of men! Epiphany falls on January 6th ending Christmastide, and if not celebrated on that day, is usually observed by liturgical churches on the Sunday following. But it is also a season that lasts until Lent. Here are a few links that might bring some Epiphany to your winter:
What was the Star of Bethlehem? The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Christmas by Colin R. Nicholl provides an interesting analysis of the various theories seeking to answer that question. After reviewing the leading ideas, he puts forth one of his own ~ thoughtfully, scientifically and with adherence to the Biblical account.
My favorite text for Epiphany is the Latin O Nata Lux text. I was first exposed to this when singing Morten Lauridsen’s treatment of it in his masterpiece Lux Aeterna. I love this text so much, I have it as my footer text on this blog.
O nata lux de lumine (O Light born of Light)
Jesu redemptor saeculi (Jesus, redeemer of the world)
Dignare clemens supplicum Laudes preces que sumere
(with loving-kindness deign to receive suppliant praise and prayer.)
Qui carne quondam contegi dignatus es pro perditis
(Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh for the sake of the lost)
Nos membra confer effici Tui Beati corporis
(grant us to be members of Thy blessed body.)
Below are two links – one to Thomas Tallis’s arrangement for this text, and another to Morten Lauridsen’s. Please take a moment and have a listen! They are quite different!
Thomas Tallis “O Nata Lux”
Morten Lauridsen “O Nata Lux”
For a wonderful, short, fictional account of the search for the Infant King by a wise man separated from his friends, I recommend Henry Van Dyke’s The Other Wise Man. It is included in several short story anthologies. I used Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old in my middle school literature classes. It is a wonderful anthology of particularly well written and diverse short stories. The Other Wise Man is also found free online here.
Can I also humbly recommend my post about the wonderful operetta Amahl and the Night Visitors?
My plan for the season of Epiphany is to memorize Psalm 27 (already partially memorized because I’ve sung so many anthems with this text), and to keep the candles in the windows until Ash Wednesday. Perhaps a conversation or two will ensue. I’ve also long had a plan to be more diligent in keeping my poetry Commonplace book. I’m hoping to spend this Ephiphany season focusing on poems about stars. So many good ones!
The Anglican Collect (a short prayer) for the second Sunday in Epiphany is as follows:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the word: Grand that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May it be so.