January -- 2021
THE SEASON OF EPIPHANY
How often is it said: “I can remember faces, but I can’t remember names?” Is that really true? Look at family photos spanning some 30 years and ask, “ Are we really known by our faces?” They change so dramatically as gravity, sun and age pay their dues.
Our faces go away. In contrast, our names will be intact long after our faces have become dust and ashes. Long before we knew our Lord as the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, the Suffering Servant, the longhaired, bearded, olive skinned and gentle eyed man in a plastic frame setting on our mantle, we knew him as Jesus.
Joseph was told in his dream to name his coming child, Jesus. When Gabriel appeared to Mary, Gabriel too declared that her baby would be called Jesus.
Listening to the Divine Voice, speaking through dream and angel, Mary and Joseph named their child, Jesus—a name as common and ordinary as “Jim”, “Joe”, “Peter”, or “John” in our day. The name “Jesus” carried no holiness nor distinction, reminding us that the Extraordinary chooses to come to life through the ordinary, through flesh.
Jesus was given a name at his birth and at his dedication at the Temple, remembered by us in the Christmas season. In the season of Epiphany mighty kings brought rich gifts to him, as wicked rulers tried to slay him, and he was baptized at the hands of his cousin John. At his baptism, Jesus received another name. As he descended into the cold waters of the Jordan and emerged with his face glistening and his hair slicked back, God’s voice proclaimed “this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
Your name is critical and you have two of them: you have “John”, “Dick”, “Mary” or “Susan” - an ordinary name THROUGH WHOM the Extraordinary moves. And you have your baptismal name: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit descended upon you as the Spirit descended upon Jesus. As happened to Jesus, you, too, have been sent out to do extraordinary things: to love your enemies, to walk the 2nd mile, to forgive 70x7 times, to return good for evil, to carry the needy on a pallet to the presence of Jesus and to stand up for those ignored and forgotten: the poor, the outcast, the homeless.
These epiphanies—these actions—great and small, invite us to manifest Jesus in our own lives. It is not enough to let angelic voices speak for us. It is not enough to let royalty and peasant shepherds testify to Jesus, God Incarnate. It is not enough to honor him by remembering his birth as we take down our Christmas décor for another year. The season of Epiphany reminds us that we are to allow Jesus to shine through us so that His light may light up ourselves and our darkened world.
With the close of 2020 and the beginning of a new calendar year in which our nation faces huge problems and SCF continues to work toward a more dependable home, it is easy to persuade ourselves that those in places of power will make the necessary and right decisions. That goes against the spirit of the Epiphany season which teaches us we have roles to play in God’s Divine Economy. We all hold within us the image of God from which pours out of us holy light, regardless of the work we choose to do.
Listen to Joan Chittister: In her book “There Is a Season,” she tells the Hasidic story of the rabbi who disappeared every Shabat Eve, “to commune with God in the forest” - or so his congregation thought.
So one Sabbath night they deputed one of their cantors to follow the rabbi and observe the holy encounter. Deeper and deeper into the woods the rabbi went until he came to the small cottage of an old Gentile woman, sick to death and crippled into a painful posture.
Once there, the rabbi cooked for her and carried her firewood and swept her floor. Then when the chores were finished, he returned immediately to his little house next to the synagogue.
Back in the village, the people demanded of the one they’d sent to follow him, “Did our rabbi go up to heaven as we thought?”
“Oh, no,” the cantor answered after a thoughtful pause. “Our rabbi went much higher than that.”
May we go as high.