Epiphany. The twelfth day after Christmas. The day our decorations should come down, or, according to some traditions, we will have bad luck all year! The day that Jesus was visited by the Magi (how they arrived so quickly, I do not know). The day we look for a prize in our galette des rois (if you haven’t had one, find one!). The day the divinity of Christ is revealed – his appearance, his manifestation, his baptism, his light.
How brightly beams the Morning Star!
What sudden radiance from afar
Doth glad us with its shining,
Brightness of God that breaks our night
And fills the darken’d souls with light
Who long for truth were pining!
Thy Word, Jesu, only feeds us,
Rightly leads us, Life bestowing;
Praise, oh praise such love o’erflowing.
This old hymn was written by Philipp Nicolai, a German Lutheran minister, in 1599. Nicolai faced a number of challenges in his life, including religious persecution – he was forced to hide and carry on his preaching in secret house churches on many occasions. When he was the pastor in Westphalia, 1300 of his parishioners died of the plague within a six-month period. Hard to imagine. He wrote to comfort his community in what must have been desperately sad and confusing times.
The idea of epiphany is one that gets tossed around quite commonly. I suspect we generally think of it as the feeling of suddenly understanding something. Suddenly making a discovery, having one’s eyes opened, experiencing the proverbial lightbulb moment. What I wonder about, however, is why we think these moments will be, or need to be, a surprise. Are we looking for these priceless bits of illumination in our lives? Or are we just waiting for them to arrive? Are we actively seeking out that which lights our way, our understanding, our world?
When I think about what fills my soul with light, the list is long. Much of it comes from others – and I am grateful for what I have received; grateful for the generosity others have shared of their own epiphanies. But, to really find a place in the kind of light and revelation that can shape my life and the world I live in, I must also look for the insights. Longing for truth is meaningless without active searching; active thinking.
I recently had a conversation about the pace of our 21st century world. Everything is so very fast. We want instant results. We want instant information. We want instant change. We are not terribly concerned with accuracy, or truth. We don’t seem to even know what they are anymore – are they about journalistic integrity? Popular culture? Technological capabilities? Who knows. But the speed at which we are bombarded with information purporting to represent these ideals is dazzling. The perception that we regularly achieve incredible insight has become commonplace. We sit and take in epiphanies as though they are entertainment, to be consumed and then tossed away in favour of the next one.
And yet, radiance is in short supply.
As I read the last verses of this hymn, I was, once again, struck by the call to action.
Come, heav’nly Bridegroom, Light divine,
And deep within our hearts now shine.
There light a flame undying!
In your one body let us be
As living branches of a tree,
Your life our lives supplying.
Now, through daily earth’s deep sadness
may perplex us and distress us,
yet with heav’nly joy you bless us.
Oh, let the harps break forth with sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
Our voices richly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day!
His love is never-ending!
Sing out! Ring out! Jubilation! Exultation!
Tell the story! Great is He, the King of Glory!
We can be living branches of our communities. Whatever those communities might be, they are able to supply life in the midst of sadness. They bless us with joy and growth – and provide space in which to gain insight. When we work together with richly blending voices, we can actively achieve what is needed.
As we long for truth in the darkness of a world that is speeding towards many unknowns, let us choose to seek light that provides what is needed, what is right. Let us pursue knowledge, revelation, understanding, insight, truth. Let us remember that all are meaningless if they do not influence our choices; all are difficult to find if we do not choose to look; all are suspect if taken from a buffet as though free and easy.
Search for your morning star – there are many. Allow it to inspire, guide and comfort. And then, sing out with jubilation for what you have learned. Break forth with sound, exulting in the joy that can come from a life lived with purpose.