Epiphany, January 6, 2019
Music: New Year Carol, Benjamin Britten Chancel Choir
There is the path of light,
Of fire and day,
The path of the moon’s bright fortnight
And the six months’ journey
Of the sun to the north:
The knower of Brahman
Who takes this path
Goes to Brahman:
He does not return.
There is the path of night and smoke,
The path of the moon’s dark fortnight
And the six months’ journey
Of the sun to the south:
The yogi who takes this path
Will reach the lunar light:
This path leads back
To human birth, at last.
These two paths, the bright and the dark, may be said to have existed in this world of change from a time without any beginning. By the one, a person goes to the place of no return. By the other s/he comes back to human birth. No yogi who knows these two paths is ever misled. Therefore, Arjuna, you must be steadfast in yoga, always.
— Isaiah 60:1
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
The New Year Howard Thurman
There is always something impressive about a fresh start. Think how fortunate it would be if time was not somehow divided into parts. Suppose there were no day, only night. Even in parts of the world near the North Pole, there is a six-month day and six-month night. Or suppose there were only winter, or only summer, or only spring. Suppose there were no artificial things like months so that we could not be mindful of the passing of time. Suppose there were no years, just the passing of hours, with no signposts to make them.
The beginning of another year means the end of a year that has fulfilled itself and passed on. It means that some things are finished, rounded out, completed forever. It means that for some of us certain changes have taken place so profound in their nature that we can never be what we were before.
The New Year means a fresh start, a second wind, another chance, a kind of reprieve, a divine act of grace bestowed upon the children of men. It is important to remember that; whatever the fact may have been, it cannot be undone. It is a fact. If we have made serious blunders, they are made. All our tears cannot unmake them. We may learn from them and carry our hard-won lessons in to the New Year. We can remember them, not with pain, but with gratitude that in our new wisdom we can live into the present year with deeper understanding and greater humanity. May whatever suffering we brought to ourselves or others teach us to understand life more completely and, in our understanding, love it more wisely, thus fulfilling God’s faith in us by permitting us to begin this New Year.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea, when Herod was king. Astrologers from the East showed up in Jerusalem just then. “Tell us,” they said, “Where to find the one born to be kin of the Judeans. We have observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”
When this news reached King Herod, he was visibly shaken, and all Jerusalem along with him. He called together all the chief priests and local experts, and pressed them for information: “Where is the Anointed One supposed to be born?”
They replied, “In Bethlehem, Judea. This is how it is put by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the and of Judah,
in no way are you least among the leaders of Judah.
Out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people, Israel.”
Then Herod called the astrologers together secretly and ascertained from them the precise time the star became visible. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go make a careful search for the child. When you find him, report back to me, so I can also go and pay him homage.”
They listened to what the king had to say and continued on their way.
And there guiding them on was the start that they had observed in the East. It led them on until it came to a standstill above where the child lay. Once they saw the star, they were beside themselves with joy. And they arrived at the house and saw the child with his mother Mary. They knelt down and paid him homage. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts—gold, pure incense, and aromatic ointment. And because they had been advised in a dream not to return to Herod, they journeyed back to their own country by a different route.
A Blessing for the New Year John O’Donohue
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets in to you,
May a flock of colors,
Indigo, red, green,
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
We all need a fresh start.
We all need a chance to set down the bags we have been packing for the last year and begin again with a lighter load.
Like the Magi from Iran who see a star and start off on a new adventure,
we need that yearly reminder that we can begin again.
There is such a thing as forgiveness.
There is a such a thing as grace.
That is what a new year can do.
Epiphany. That is what today is, January 6th.
The Magi reach the house of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after a long journey following a star.
They present their gifts and go back home.
They must have been transformed in some way,
although the story doesn’t talk about that.
Epiphany. It means manifestation. Clarity. Vision.
Ever had an epiphany?
It is that moment when in the midst of confusion or discernment or lack of direction,
that we get an aha! moment.
It is accompanied by a huge feeling of relief.
Our bodies feel the change.
It doesn’t even matter what the direction is,
what the vision is,
what the aha moment is,
in terms of its content.
It could be a very challenging direction,
a lot of work perhaps,
but the knowing,
seeing the star rising and knowing that is what we are to follow,
is a relief.
You know what to do now.
You know who you are now.
You have a sense of purpose, of direction.
It feels like you are a new person.
It is all OK.
That is the experience of Epiphany.
The magi bring their gifts.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We don’t hear any more about the gifts,
whether or not they were appreciated or used.
I think we assume they were.
Perhaps they were gifts that were just in time for the Holy Family
as they needed to flee Herod for Egypt.
Maybe the gifts helped fund their escape.
The Magi wouldn’t have known that.
They just brought their gifts because they were following a star to the Christ Child
who they wanted to honor.
If I could sum up my experience in Iraq for Arbaeen,
it would be the story of the magi.
It was all about giving in honor of their Imam.
Every gift was treasured.
That is what I witnessed.
It isn’t really about what gift we bring,
and I am thinking of gift in a different sense now,
the gifts we have and are as human beings.
Those gifts are honored and treasured and valued and appreciated,
because it is Epiphany.
When given from the heart the gifts we have are blessed.
That is epiphany.
That is grace.
That is forgiveness.
That is the fresh start.
Sometimes we need the divine reminder that we are loved,
valued, treasured, and honored.
It doesn’t happen from the world–from other people,
the divine acceptance, I mean.
The divine acceptance is not based on others’ opinions.
The shaming and the criticism we receive on a daily basis is heavy and burdensome.
It leads to depression and anxiety and self-shaming.
If we knew the effects our words had on others,
I don’t think we would ever say what we say even to people we don’t like,
because that stuff is killer.
But since we all get this negative garbage,
directly from individuals or indirectly from our larger culture,
we need an Epiphany on a regular basis.
We all need it.
You need it.
I need it.
We all need to know that we are accepted, loved, valued, treasured, without condition.
The gifts we bring are beautiful.
What does it take to experience an Epiphany?
Maybe it comes when we need it and don’t even know we need it.
It comes in times when we are down on ourselves,
worried about our future,
feeling guilty or shamed about our past, lonely, misunderstood,
when somewhere, we get a message that we are loved as we are.
We feel it in our bodies.
When that happens, there is nothing we need to do but accept that we are accepted.
Your heart is known. It is loved.
When that happens, you can make a fresh start.
I invite you to close your eyes and receive this blessing “For A New Beginning” by John O’Donohue…
In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.