I'm celebrating Epiphany. It started January 6th, the day we now officially put up all the Christmas decorations and clean the house afterwards. I like having a day on the calendar for that. It gives us time to savor those days between Christmas and New Year’s, to enjoy what we seemed to have spent a month working toward and waiting for. To plan to do it on January 6th becomes a ritual for us instead of just a chore for me.
The tree that has been in front of a living-room window for weeks goes out and the morning light pours in. The extra manger scenes sitting around the house are boxed and taken to the attic. The space opens up in the house.
I didn’t grow up knowing about or living within a liturgical calendar. In my childhood, the tree usually came down the day after Christmas. My husband initially was the one who wanted to let the decorations linger in the house for awhile, and I guess I needed a reason NOT to do what I’d seen all my life. A friend, a life-long Episcopalian, pointed out that we were celebrating the twelve days of Christmas and that it really wasn’t over until January 6th. That was all the excuse I needed - a spiritual reason for what looked like (and felt like at the time) procrastination or laziness.
Sometimes the craziest motives get you started down the best of paths.
In the years to come I began to read about the seasons, to pay more attention to the liturgical calendar and became intentional about Epiphany, the season to celebrate the Wise men finding Jesus, John’s baptizing him and declaring him the Lamb of God, and his miracle of transformation at the wedding of Cana proving his divine power. This is the season of taking the light we longed for in Advent and received in the manger at Christmas out into the world.
If I were to pick a theme song for Epiphany, and I think I might, it would be “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine.” My favorite arrangement is Bruce Springsteen’s. Who knew the Boss had recorded it?
In early December I challenged my family and my readers to read John or seek out their own Advent practice. I appreciate and loved every response.
My cousin from NYC posted, “I take the same pic ever year once our tree is up and lit and trimmed. I love the part where you can see the last of the Fall leaves hanging on outside our window. It’s a season of saying good-bye to the old and welcoming the new. Good things are coming….”
She’s declaring the same thing John did, “Behold!” he said. “Good things are coming,” she said.
A friend who accepted the challenge then didn’t get to finish reading John wrote to explain why… During the wonder of a blissful Christmas with her first grandchild and some beautiful extended family moments, she also experienced the sudden death of a close friend. “Our lives simply stopped,” she wrote. “The last words I heard him say were praying to our Lord.”
Their Bible study group took dinner to the family and then met at another member’s house to pray. She wrote, “John 12:1-3 has always been special to me. I am definitely a Martha and spend more time preparing for a meal than savoring the moment of the visit… If we were all like Mary, then the meal would not be prepared… In the South when there is a death, we cook and that is also what Martha did.”
I read over her letter three times. There was more there than she knew. Cooking when someone dies is so Southern, but it's also so spiritual. It’s an act of creativity - bringing life and nourishment in the face of death - a tiny act of rebellion against the enemy.
It's also an act of celebration - you cook for another as a way of thanking God for the life he has given you, for those you love who are still with you, your job, the things that bring you joy and fullfillment...It's a practice of celebration and gratitude.
And it’s compassion. You cannot touch another’s soul pain but you can touch food and so can they and somehow that food incarnates love and compassion and sympathy and say's "I'll be here for you.”
The Word becomes flesh. My friend was living the book of John. Transforming what was in her heart into something that could be tasted and touched and smelled and swallowed. Carrying the light of the world.
“I am the light of the world” is one of the seven “I am” claims that Jesus makes recorded in the book of John. Taking that light into the world…I can’t see how one could celebrate the Incarnation or Epiphany any better.