Epiphanies, Not Resolutions

January 6 in the Church Year is Epiphany, the celebration of the Magi who came asking King Herod in Jerusalem, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” It follows the celebration of Twelfth Night (January 5), the end of the Twelve Days of Christmastide. For Protestants, it begins its own liturgical season, which extends to Ash Wednesday in February or March; Catholics count that period as part of “Ordinary Time.”

Church Year Cycle

The cycle of the Church Year, from the excellent Internet Monk

It’s part of an older way of looking at time, that sees the days of our lives not as an infinite empty grid to be filled as we choose, but as a set of interlocking cycles and seasons (like the Mayan Calendar Round or the Hebrew Sabbath & Jubilee), each with its own character, and every day requiring from us a proper response.

Our multicultural, hyper-technological society doesn’t easily settle into such seasonal rounds. Our Cartesian calendar grid obscures the signs of times & seasons in favor of just plain numbers, and we expect the world to change when the numbers do. We come to 01/01 and say, “This year everything will be different!” But it doesn’t work that way. On 01/02, we look around and find ourselves in the same old country, treading the same old paths. We need to think smaller, take single steps, be prepared to take a while; we can’t make the journey in a single leap. And we need guidance, wise signs to point the way to new territory.

“From far away we come and farther we must go.
How far… how far… my crystal star?
The shepherd dreams inside the fold.
Cold are the sands by the silent sea.
Frozen the incense in our frozen hands, heavy the gold.

How far… how far… my crystal star?
By silence-sunken lakes, the antelope leaps.
In paper-painted oasis, the drunken gypsy weeps.
The hungry lion wanders, the cobra sleeps.
How far… how far… my crystal star?”

Those pagan priests of Persia, the Magi, were wise, and knew how to follow the signs of their time. There must have been a thousand & one details to attend to — what to eat, what to wear, how far they’d have to travel; but they set out, following the signs they could see, and asking directions along the way. They sought first the Kingdom of God, and they brought gifts.

Have you seen a child the color of wheat… the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild; his hands are those of a king – as king he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side; and the eastern star is our guide.

Have you seen a child the color of earth… the color of thorn?
His eyes are sad; his hands are those of the poor as poor he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side, and the eastern star is our guide.

— from Amahl & the Night Visitors

These are the questions of the New Year, and of the Seasons of Winter & Epiphany, as the days grow long & longer: Are you still seeking? What is your guide? What gifts do you bring?


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