It’s on the inside of my birthday card, this map. My son, Colin, marked the places where the various items in my present called home – nuts from the Blue Diamond factory and local growers, olive oil, honey, etc. They come from neighboring communities and were picked up in local shops or farmer’s markets. California offers almost everything within a few square miles and under an hour’s travel.
This is local in another way, too: it’s local from the place my son lives.
I don’t believe that everything is relative, but I do believe that everything is related. This map reminds me of that – and prompts me to honor the connectedness and relatedness of all things.
They come to the feeder every day – at least a pair, usually more. For the cost and effort of putting seed in the feeder and scattering bread crusts on the ground, grace and beauty on the wing is made manifest just outside my window. Every season, in all kinds of weather, they come.
It’s said that cardinals are the spirits of those who have left this life returning in a different form. It’s also said that they signal death, the presence of the Spirit, and imminent change. Any, all, or none of these things could be true. I can’t say. What I do know: beauty and grace are local where I live and breathe just as surely as they are resident in exotic, far away places.
Gracious God, give me an eye to see the beauty you offer, and a spirit to be profoundly grateful for it. Amen.
It’s an odd depiction of the Magi, with a ghostly Jesus pointing the way to some place beyond the starlit Bethlehem in the background. They aren’t headed toward the stained glass window framed city. They are continuing on a path whose end cannot be seen. Their gifts and their attention are for something far more mysterious than a city cut-out; they are seeking in the here and now, not hiding in nostalgic recollection of a manger scene.
Wisdom is not knowledge about past events, and it isn’t appreciation for beautiful tales told by starlight. Wisdom seeks to offer itself to life, to honor what is holy, and to heal the brokenness of the world and her creatures. Just as Jesus cannot be limited by the recollections of his birth, life, death, and resurrection that we honor and continue to find holy, we cannot limit our lives to remembering the stories rather than following the living presence that calls us beyond them.
The wise still seek him – and are willing to continue the journey beyond the known.
When the snow falls just right, with enough heft to coat the branches but not enough to break them, something like an outdoor hallway is revealed. I’ve come upon them in many places – the library walkway, Buckmanville Road in New Hope, and Prescott Park in Portsmouth. But none were quite as magical as the ones a few miles up Birch Hill Road in New Durham. Dirt roads leading to the summer cabins on Chalk and March ponds, abandoned in Winter, were natural cathedrals when adorned in white. I spent many hours walking in these sacred spaces, and am much richer for it.
Healing, justice, love. A song, a branch, and a path. If I approached them with the same reverence as a snow-created wonder, surely the world and I would be much the richer for it.
It begins with the Magi following a star to a baby born king. Intelligent and dedicated, they head to Jerusalem – the place you would expect to find a child king. But the baby wasn’t there, so they move on to the dreary little town of Bethlehem. In a humble home, they find a toddler. They are filled with joy, making the months long journey a small price to pay for the experience. A gift giving and dream later, they take an alternate route home, better for their journey.
Some interesting things about their story…
The Magi have been folded into the Christmas story, with Sunday school pageants and Christmas cards showing them trekking to the manger. But Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in a house, not a barn; Jesus wasn’t a newborn – most likely, he was around two.
The gospel never mentions how many Magi made the trip, but tradition landed on three. Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior are names given to the Magi, but those aren’t part of the original account, either.
The Magi weren’t Jewish when they set out to follow the star, and they didn’t convert. They were most likely Zoroastrian scholars, and their country of origin may have been Persia – another thing not made clear in the gospel.
How is it that our picture of the Magi has diverged from their original story? How is it that this version of the story is so prevalent and powerful that we read back into the gospel these elements?
Epiphany is a day, true, but it’s also a season that begins as Christmas ends and ends as Lent begins. It is an opportunity to remember that God’s chosen arrival into our messy human world didn’t fit into an expected time, place, or social station. If we aren’t careful, we can easily gloss over the difficulties that a journey across desert terrain entailed; we can omit that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled to Egypt for survival – political refugees. We can overlook that a response to God’s arrival in our world may be fear and violence rather than awe and joy.
I love this card. It’s a beautiful depiction of the Magi arriving to worship Jesus. It’s also a good reminder that if I’m not careful, I just might mistake profound joy and divine revelation for pleasant prettiness and fleeting happiness. Epiphany is a season because it may take longer than a day for me to see that the incarnation cannot and should not be reduced to a Hallmark moment.
I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon looking out the window, hoping that the expected snowfall will come. But now the sun has set and the street lights shine on bare sidewalks. No snow yet. But I still have hope that the wonder of snow is on its way, so I’m keeping the inside lights to a minimum – just the Christmas tree lights and the bookcase lights.
Wonder is a freely given gift, but an easily overlooked one. I can’t be too preoccupied with my own things or sit in a spotlight if I want experience the wonder all around me. I’ll miss snowfall, starlight, new life, and God knows what else if I forget to look beyond myself.
It’s just a day into the new year, but Christmas season is still with me – the twelve days don’t end until the 6th, and our festive decorations are still brightening up the house. Included in those decorations are the Christmas cards that hang between the kitchen and living room. Walking between rooms, I pass under the well wishes of friends, family, and a few institutions – an arch of love and care that has been constructed card by card for decades. It would be a shame to let the cards go before giving them more than a passing glance…
You might want to share some of your favorites as well…