Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013.01.16 Epiphany Stories

Epiphany means revelation or insight. Or in words of James Joyce, the "revelation of the whatness of a thing . . .the moment when the soul of the commonest object...seems to be radiant." 

Twelfth Night, Epiphany Eve, is an English celebration, a time to try everything new you can think of—pranks, scandals, and role reversals.  This is my favorite season of the church year, because I just LOVE new ideas and insights that shed light on something in a different way. And I love the God of reversals. I watch for such surprises and usually applaud.

Epiphany takes us from Christmas to Lent and is based on the biblical story of the Magi arriving for a baby-viewing. They’ve heard that this kid may be special, sent from Godde—also dangerous, according to King Herod who feared a challenge to his own almighty rule/dictatorship. He sent the wisest men in his kingdom to check out the truth of the theological rumor.  

Imagine the scene: three august foreigners, Gentiles, astrologers from the east no less, arrived at the stable entrance bringing lavish gifts to the little Jewish baby cooing in a filthy crib around which huddled two exhausted parents, wondering if they would survive. Just imagine what Mary and Joseph felt at this appalling visitation. 

It's only a story (but never say only a story), for this kind of thing happens all the time to mess up what we all agree is true and real, and even what we are sure God’s plans are!   The story is biblical, therefore a bit grandiose on purpose, and rich in symbols and imagery of light and star, things these Magi know something about, and trust to guide them.

The story’s meaning is not just to emphasize God’s action in history to enlighten the people, but also to show that Jesus Christ is intended as Messiah, a liberator for ALL people. 

Stories have power to transform and inspire no matter how fantastical they seem. Even if they don’t turn out the way they predict we keep on telling them, because we need to hear them, over and over. 

I remember when a man who lived in the local shelter in Gloucester started to come to church at our parish of St. John’s. His name was David. He sat quietly in the back for weeks, and in time came up to join others for the Holy Communion meal. He said,  “something's going on here.”  He revealed nothing personal, except that he had a drinking problem.  No one asked for more.

One day the office staff heard someone talking out loud in the sanctuary (open for prayer when the parish office was open, or people were in the building), and peeked in to investigate. They saw David standing at the lectern reading aloud to an empty church the biblical readings for the Sunday just past. I don’t think the church was really empty. 

In time David vanished, as quickly as he had appeared. He left the place richer for his presence, and perhaps he received something himself.

I have a story I’m trying to write.  You have a story. Theology has a story. Even Science has a story. 

What might be the inside story the Wise Men would tell?  I wonder if those ancient astrologers and sages faced some of the same problems and insights modern astronomers and astro physicists encounter? They could read the stars, and they knew the sky pretty well, but they couldn’t quite come up with a really good insight about the origins of the universe.  For that they needed theology’s story.  Their astronomical GPS wasn’t enough.

Even today, scientific calculations come up against a brick wall in the search for truth. Sometimes, they need theology, or let’s say insights from the mystical/spiritual/religious faith traditions. They need the Mystery some call God to fill in the blanks about the cosmos and its quantum beginnings.

Like the ancients who followed a star that the prophets advertised as leading to Divinity, scientists today are in respectful conversation with theologians they once dismissed as too non-scientific to be useful.  A result a new discipline called astro-theology is evolving.  (The Journal of Cosmology, based on the science of astronomy and mathematics, has a theology issue.)

When two or three gather together to share their gifts, there is Epiphany and epiphanies.