Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day we mark the manifestation or appearance of Jesus to the Gentiles.

The Gospel reading for this day (Matthew 2:1-12) is Matthew’s story of the wise men following the light of a special star, a natural object that they understood to be a sign of the birth of a king. We don’t know the exact location of “the East” that was home for the wise men. Wherever it was, it was a foreign land; Matthew tells us that they returned to “their own country” by a different route when a dream warned them not to return to Herod. We can only guess at what their native religion or belief system might have been. Still, even though the star didn’t point to the birth of new king in their own country, they noticed the star in the sky and knew it signified something of great importance. More importantly, it touched their hearts; Matthew says that when they saw that the star had stopped, they were “overwhelmed with joy”. The star and the distant event to which it pointed had a deep effect on them.

People who pay attention to the sky, the changing seasons, the incredible variety of life on our planet Earth, often experience joy and wonder and wholeness. Spending time outdoors paying attention to God’s creation leads us to open our hearts in gratitude. We don’t need to be able to name these experiences as ‘God’ for them to have a deep effect on us, and for us to know they point to something more. Those of us who do use traditional religious language describe such experiences as ways to connect with God. Being outdoors and taking the time to look around and listen is one of the most accessible doors or openings to the Holy. Such experiences not only give us a sense of God’s presence, but they often change us in profound ways.

As we talk about the light of the Epiphany star and connect it to the light of Christ in the world, the hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere are slowly increasing. On the plains, the angle of the sun and the weather conditions on some days combine to produce beautiful colors in the sky at sunrise and sunset. Cold, clear nights result in starry skies that make it easy to imagine following a special star night after night to see where it leads.

Launching this blog seems to me like a fitting way to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. Environmental issues directly affect the traditional social concerns of the church such as poverty, disease, hunger, and social justice. During Epiphany, the Church talks about bringing Christ to the world, about revealing Christ’s power to bring healing and wholeness. To bring Christ to a world where environmental issues have come to be understood as fundamental to all our economic, social, and political concerns, the Church needs to bring these issues into the center of our conversations and our work.