Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Epiphany: A Day and a Season

Epiphany went by this year, and I hardly even noticed it.  It came and went on Monday, January 6th, when the most notable news was the Polar Vortex, which has plunged our state (and most of the country) into a frozen wasteland.

I love the day of Epiphany, though I had barely a notion of it growing up.  I have grown to love it, I suppose, because there is a certain exotic taste to it.  It's not just the story of the three wise men from an indeterminate country "to the east"; it's not just the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  It's also the things I have learned since then, about exotic places where Epiphany is a much bigger deal than it is here:  where they have community festivals with life-size puppets and processions of the three kings; where children leave their shoes out on the eve of Epiphany so they can be filled with gifts; where people gather by Mediterranean waters and bless the sea; where people mark the lintels of their houses for the new year with the initials "CBM" and pray God's blessings on friend and stranger for the coming year.

Epiphany seems exotic to me, and that is why I like it:  finding the revelation of Christ in places and faces strange to me.  It reminds me of that time long ago that I spent in Japan, finding myself constantly surprised and always learning new things.  There are times now that I wonder:  it was so long ago.  Was I ever even there?  Everything was so different.  The streets narrow and winding, with men delivering bowls of noodles (instead of pizza) on bicycles, the children shy or staring, the small churches where we took off our shoes at the entry and wore slippers instead.  So exotic, so far away.  At first I thought I was bringing Jesus to Japan.  But I discovered that instead Jesus was already there.

Epiphany seems exotic to me, but ordinary as well.  It is the surprise of finding Jesus in the strange and the familiar, in the old man making his bamboo baskets, and in the weary cashier at the supermarket.  It is the surprise of discovering Jesus in the words of an old hymn, and in the sounds and lyrics of a top forty tune.  It is the strange taste of bread and wine, so ordinary, transformed.

Lucky for me, Epiphany is not just a day.  It is a season, too:  a season where we hear the call of a strange and ordinary man, walking by the sea.  He says, "Follow me," and for some reason we can't even imagine, we follow him.  We follow him across the sea of Galilee, through storms and fasting, to Myanmar and Japan and Texas and the subzero Midwest.

And because we follow him, we see miracles, both exotic and ordinary.


20  C B M 14.
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