Epiphany

“Home By Another Road,” Susan Ryder

READINGS

Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Matthew 2:1-12
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” Hearing this, Herod the king was troubled, and all Jerusalem as well; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told Herod, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.'”

Then Herod summoned the magi secretly, ascertained from them what time the star appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and the star that they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered the child gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another road.

REFLECTION
Yesterday – January 6 – was Epiphany on the Christian calendar. Epiphany commemorates the visit of Magi from the east, who followed a star to find the Christ child, bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The word “epiphany” means “a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something; a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.” In a spiritual context, it refers to those times when God breaks into our world in such a way that we become more attune to the divine nature. It is sometimes referred to as an “aha” moment, a spiritual awakening. I like to think of it as an internal light suddenly switching on, illuminating the darkness. Thus the symbol of the season of Epiphany is a Star, a bright light shining in the night sky.

Two epiphanies occur in the Matthew story I read for today – the first, the one most people recognize, is the following of the star, that celestial manifestation, by the Magi from the east, first to Jerusalem. After conferring there with Herod, they traveled to Bethlehem to find the place of Jesus’ birth. Their plan was to report back to Herod with the location of the child after they visited. The second epiphany occurs when they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod as planned, but to avoid Jerusalem altogether and return home by another road without divulging where Jesus was. They listened to that inner voice, an epiphany, if you will, and changed their plans accordingly. That, in a nutshell, is what the observance of Epiphany is about – as we are invited to consider epiphanies in our own lives.

As luck would have it, I had an Epiphany “aha” moment last Sunday while listening to Bob’s Reflection, which inspired my thoughts for this morning. Bob invited us to consider the spirituality of time, as he pondered whether he made the most of the year that just passed. He said, “I wonder what possibilities I may have let slip by under-appreciated. One of the things I hope for is to be able to turn the page on any given year with gratitude rather than regret … Coming to the end of a calendar year reminds me of how very short and fragile life is, and that such moments are to be treasured as they happen.” Bob’s words created a powerful lens for me as I looked back on 2017 and realized what a challenging year it had been for me emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, and how miserable I felt much of the time. I thought about how sad I felt much of last year, and when I wasn’t sad, I was full of anger or fear – sometimes all three at the same time. I spent way too much time on Facebook and Twitter, rage tweeting at strangers and politicians, contributing to the already overly consuming negativity of social media. I listened to pundits on MSNBC drone on about the same thing over and over for far too many hours, and then spent sleepless nights in bed worrying about the future, and waking hours doing much of the same.

As the New Year dawned and I listened to Bob’s wise words, I felt disappointed by what I had allowed myself to be given over to, about how I had spent much of my time and energy. I thought about those who DID something positive in the midst of the negative – those who ran for office for the first time; those who stood up to protect the most vulnerable among us; members of this very congregation who turned their political angst into something practical by helping a refugee family. From their inspiration I realized that I have a choice about how to go on from here; how to live in this coming year. I survived 2017, and the people I care for survived. The sky did not fall, and we made it through, most of us, unscathed. Because of our positions of privilege most of us will also survive 2018 – barring a nuclear holocaust. That said, I acknowledge that many did not fare as well this past year, and may not in the coming year – but my angry tweets and sleepless nights do nothing to help those who suffer. They just add to an already negative, spiteful narrative. So my epiphany became a resolution for the New Year – that, like the Magi, I am going to try a different route, another road this year, because the one I used previously did not serve me, or anyone else, well. Like the Magi, I will not submit to Herod’s insecurities or tyranny, nor allow him to dictate my emotional or spiritual well being. I will choose an alternative way. So instead of contributing more outrage into an already turbulent conversation, I will try to choose kindness; instead of hurling insults, I’ll try to share compliments; instead of arguing, I will try to be civil.

Chelsea Clinton and Sarah Silverman, two inspiring women I follow on Twitter, provide an excellent example of how to do this. Chelsea is a remarkably poised and thoughtful young woman who gets a LOT of hateful things said to her on social media. Her responses always amaze me – here are a few:

A Twitter user with the handle “DeporableUSA” posted an unflattering picture of Chelsea next to a cartoonish, braying donkey with the comment “We will expose who is the real Father of @ChelseaClinton” (with a website link included which I refuse to share) and concluded with “Any Questions?” Chelsea’s response, “Every time I see this side-by-side, which is not infrequent, I think of Winnie the Pooh & Shrek. And smile! Happy 2018!” Rather than bashing DeplorableUSA, as I might have previously – I complimented Chelsea for her beauty, inside and out, and for how she handles those who would try to bring her down.

Another user, “WeSupport45” posted an image of a fake tweet attributed to Chelsea regarding the move of Israel’s capital, with the comment “Congratulations @HillaryClinton & @BillClinton for officially raising the dumbest child ever @ChelseaClinton please stay out of politics you make Forrest Gump look like Einstein compared to you!” Chelsea’s response: “Hi Support 45! Never wrote that. [The tweet was fabricated by someone else.] I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to watch Forrest Gump though! Happy New Year!”

Finally – for a few days at the end of 2017, Chelsea tweeted links encouraging folks to sign up for healthcare under the ACA. In the midst of that, she was accused of being a Satanist for an unrelated reason that I have no clue about. Carmine Sabla asked “Ms. Clinton will you be informing The Church of Satan and encouraging them to get covered?” Here response was brilliant. “Hi Carmine – All Americans, regardless of religious beliefs, should get the health care they need. If you live in New York, California and a few other states, there’s still time to #GetCovered for 2018” – with a link to a web site to sign up.

While inside she may have been seething or devastated, and there may have been tears running down her face at the unfathomable cruelty she often receives – I love how Chelsea publicly goes high when they go low. It’s such a breath of fresh air, and can’t help but change the narrative, even if just a little bit. It certainly changed it for me. When I read her Twitter stream, I consistently find positive comments, retweets, and responses from her – the only time she gets angry is when someone goes after a child, including Barron Trump. And even then her comments are measured, respectful, yet firm. What a change from the usual Twitter storms that erupt on that social media platform.

Sarah Silverman is another great example – Bob shared a video of her appearance on Bill Maher’s show during a Reflection last November, where she discussed her show “I Love America” and how she has chosen to respond to an angry, divided nation with love and compassion. She talked about how she listens to other points of view instead of arguing with people, and tries to find common ground and see the best in others. She demonstrated this recently on Twitter. On December 28 Silverman posted a tweet, and a total stranger replied by calling her a terrible word I will not repeat. Instead of lashing back, ignoring, or blocking the user, Silverman opted for a compassionate response. “I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain,” she tweeted back. “But u know that. I know this feeling. My back sux too,” she added, referring to back pain the user mentioned in his Twitter feed. “See what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.”

Sarah continued the conversation with the man, listening to him share about childhood sexual abuse as well as his physical back pain. She suggested he find a support group to find other people to talk to, and reached out on Twitter asking if there were any back pain clinics near where the man lives who would help him. A spine clinic responded that they would help and work to make it affordable for him, after he shared that he did not have health insurance and was poor. The man agreed to get help, and confessed that he’s antisocial and has no friends. At the end of the exchange, he apologized to Silverman, who wrote, “I’m so psyched you’ll go. KEEP ME POSTED. Don’t give up on yourself. Be brave enough to risk getting burned. It’s what happens when u fight for yourself. But it’s worth it. I promise.” Her approach is part of Silverman’s mission to help calm the increasingly nasty and confrontational political discourse. “Screaming at each other has never caused change,” she said in an interview. “Sure, sometimes major protests and rioting in the streets causes change, but when it’s people one-on-one? Having a screaming competition in that setting never changes minds. We need to try and understand each other.”

This is what I aspire to – my epiphany resolution for the New Year. And during this season of Epiphany, I invite you to consider your own. Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for and being kind to our fellow travelers on this planet a routine, a habit, one that empowers the weak and the vulnerable, gives food to the hungry and shows compassion to our elderly, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home. Thurman’s poem, found on the cover of your bulletin, ought to be the theme song for our work in the world, as every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers. Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring positive, healing change to the world. Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being Christ-like toward the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea. If each of our circles of contact are changed, online and off, even just a little, we can change the world.

Jesus never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be. To live with compassion, seek justice, and travel in the company of the Divine – that is what we are called to do. So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live and interact in the world. Yes, we must still stand up and make our voices be heard when justice is violated , but we must do so with respect and civility. Each of us can do something. Let’s allow acts of love and many little deeds of compassion become our habit this year. Because when the stars of the universe and the inner light of our spirit combine, enlightenment grows. When the dance of the universe and the dance of our spirit inter­weave, oneness unfolds. When the song of the universe and the song of our spirit resonate together, celebration flourishes. In this New Year, let us lift our vision of what we can achieve: in being authentically ourselves; in being more loving and more thoughtful; in listening more, and better, to others; in working for justice and peace; in connecting with all of creation – and with the infinite.

Let us Pray –

Place in me a star,
my God,
that I might burn brightly
with your love.
Explode in me,
that I might burst
with the possibility of your grace.
Shine so brightly, in my words,
in my actions,
that the world might see
only you.
Make me an Epiphany,
oh God!
(Richard Bott)