Today is Epiphany. Some context: Epiphany is a Christian high holy day, similar to Christmas and Easter, and also kicks off the season of Epiphany, which lasts until Lent. The word “Epiphany” means a sudden realization or perception, and, depending on which tradition you ask, refers to either the Magi visiting young Jesus, or his baptism. Either way it’s basically a day commemorating the revealing that this brown, middle-eastern peasant is the one the seasons of Advent and Christmas have had us expecting.
Every Thursday, on Twitter at 9pm, a group hosts a chat on the hashtag #SlateSpeak. It’s great, raw, honest conversation from people all over. If you followed the #fuckthisshit Advent devotional, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Last night’s topic was Epiphany, and how it applies to us today, especially in terms of justice and resistance. One of the questions, after the term was defined, was what our gut reaction was to the definition. Mine was hope and risk. I imagined myself in Mary and Joseph’s situation, and how absurd the whole thing must have seemed.
They had a kid in a barn.
Yeah, sure they had some visions, but so did the town drunk passed out in the street. This child was born into poverty, into scandal, and into oppression. Messiah? Yeah, we’ve heard that before. They usually end up killed, or the hype wears off and they fade into obscurity. Meanwhile, you’ve got to put food on the table, pay the bills, deal with oppressive social structures that keep you marginalized and controlled… just keep your head down, do an honest day’s work and mind your own business like the rest of us.
Three magi, prominent foreigners, show up with fancy gifts for your toddler. They pay homage to him. Having raised three 2 year-olds, I can only imagine what this looked like. He probably tried to grab all the shiny things, kicked one of the magi, and threw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t eat the Myrrh.
The magi leave, and now what? This is where my gut reaction of hope and risk comes in. First, Epiphany demands a response. Something happens, is revealed, and it can’t be un-revealed. You have to choose what to do next. In my opinion, contrary to Tom Petty, the waiting is the easy part. What do you do when what you’ve been waiting for arrives? We dramatize it into this big to-do, but barely anyone had any idea about this kid. He was the boy, born out of wedlock, to a poor young Jewish girl and her longsuffering carpenter husband. This “arrival” of centuries of waiting and longing was…kind of a dud. So to step into hope, to say “yes, this is it,” takes a hell of a lot of courage and risk. At that time, it was literally putting your life at stake.
Epiphany, to me, stands as a symbol of transition. A shift from inactive observation and waiting to active participation. Not in abstract, spiritual terms, but in the here-and-now. Taking that risk and opening up to hope. Laying down the defenses we’ve put up to guard us from disappointment.
I have more to say on this, but this is long-winded enough for tonight.
Peace and Tenacity,