Reverence

Pilgrim Press Christmas Card, 2022

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.

Surprise!

2021 Christmas Card

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.

Season of Wonder

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.

Epiphany in Images

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…

Shining A Star Light

Readings: Psalm 124; Jeremiah 31:15-17; Revelation 21:1-7; Matthew 2:11b-18

Opening their treasure chests, they (the Magi) offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod say that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” [Matthew 2:11b-18, NRSV]

In all my years at church, I’ve only heard one or two sermons on it. No one seems eager to offer such a horror story between Christmas at the manger and magi on Epiphany. The magi go home by another road, Jesus and his family escape to Egypt; it’s easier to focus on these good outcomes than on what happened in the left behind town of Bethlehem. But the story is there, a testament to the cruelty the world visits upon the young and innocent who lack the means or opportunity to find a safe haven.

The madness of a single person in a position of power can extinguish life, stealing the future of so many without thought and sometimes seemingly without repercussions. Sometimes, such evil is hard to see or understand in a direct way ; it’s contours are obscured in darkness. It is only when a light is shining that it becomes visible, and is recognized for what it is.

Epiphany is revelation, a light shining on God In Our World. Epiphany is revelation, a light shining on evil within our world and ourselves. I would do well to remember this. Better to see the cruelty in my own heart and offer it up to God for transformation than to visit it upon the innocents in my own place and time.