Epiphany – January 8, 2023
Jan Richardson is an artist, writer and United Methodist Minister. She published a retreat for Christmas and Epiphany and I was struck, as often happens with Jan Richardson, by some of her writings. I’ll share some of those with you today.
She speaks of artist friends who have a special practice at the beginning of a new painting. “They take a few quiet moments with the canvas. Before reaching for a paintbrush, they first pick up a pencil. They write a prayer onto the canvas. No one else will ever see the penciled words, because with every stroke of the paintbrush, the prayer disappears. Yet the words infuse the work. Beneath the layers of paint, the prayer persists. Blessing and invocation, it calls to the viewer, both concealing and revealing its presence”.
Today is Epiphany Sunday in the life of the church. We celebrate the wonder of the story of the Magi following a star to pay homage to the Christ child. The light shines in the darkness.
Now, let’s think more about this, because the wise men undertook quite the journey. First, they traveled a long way to pay homage to this child, even though they were not themselves Jews. Perhaps they knew that the title ‘king of the Jews’ was too small and did not encapsulate who this child was. They knew Jesus would change the destiny of all who sought him, and this was something they needed to see for themselves. They risked their lives by disobeying Herod when they set out on another road home, probably lengthening their journey. It seems that something about their encounter with Jesus confirmed their instinct and they followed the other road from their dream.
Brother Richard Benson notes that “They had come to Him who was Himself the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. None can come to Christ at Bethlehem and go away as they came. The road along which this company of travelers went was itself a type of the spirit with which they went. How careful ought we to be when we have come to Jesus that we do go forward by ‘a new and living way,’ not by the way by which we came! God leads us onward.” In other words, we are changed when we encounter the living Christ. Our journeys change, our focus in life changes, our life journey changes.
The Magi could not return to their old way of living after they met the Messiah, and we can’t return to our old way of living after we meet the Messiah. Jesus’ presence changes everything. There is more to life than our routines and careers. Life has more meaning now because the light of God’s presence is among us. It’s the prayer silently written on the canvas of our lives. This Epiphany journey is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey.
“Sometimes the path that is calling to us lies hidden beneath the path we know. Our lives might hold hints, clues, questions, dreams that have gathered themselves away from our primary sight. There are times when we are invited to look more closely—to turn over the story we have known, and to find the lines and fragments that could become a new path”.
I think about this and realize that sometimes the path is not clear, it is often winding and challenging and lately, because of a pandemic and the end of another calendar, filled with endings…. with loss.
Jan’s response to that: “As we travel our own path over ground that can suddenly fall away, the question Mary poses to the angel in Luke chapter 1, often becomes our own: How can this be? But the sacred texts tell us also that when God shows up, God intends for us to know that loss and change are not where the story stops. In the endings upon endings, in the chaos, in the lostness and helplessness we often feel, what appears to be absence proves to be something quite other than that. The emptiness unfurls and unfolds itself to reveal a presence that holds love at its heart. …..this time of year invites us to open ourselves to this love that continually makes its way toward us from the end of the world. Every broken part of our life, everything we have lost, each thread of our story that has come to a close: all of our endings are held in the love that knows all about endings—the love that, in God’s circuitous sense of time, has already seen the end and comes back to show us that there is something beyond even that end, beyond every end. This day tells us this love is luminous, that it bears a star, that it holds a light that remains with us amid every change.
It’s true, that this light may remain hidden from our sight for a very long time. Endings sometimes have a way of confounding our vision, of stoking fear and uncertainty that can make it hard to find our way. And still (and still) this season tells us of a God who comes to us even by paths we cannot see, a God who meets us in the deepest darkness, becoming the light that goes with us from here.
When you feel lost, pray for a star to guide you. Ask Jesus to shed some light on your path.
This journey we call life is epic and there will be detours as we make our way. Don’t worry about what the full journey will be. Instead, in the tradition of 12-step spirituality, ask God, “What’s the next right thing.” Ask God for the provision you need for only the next step.
This could be a word of advice from a friend, a sense of encouragement in the midst of adversity, or perhaps a morsel of bread to sustain you. God will provide what you need along the way.
I close with a blessing from Jan, entitled Those Stars That Turn In Us
I do not know how to keep it all together
or by what patterns this world might finally hold.
What I know is that our hearts
are bigger than this sky that wheels above us
and what shines through all this darkness
shines through us,
setting every shattered thing into a new constellation
and we can turn our faces to that light,
to the grace of those stars that turn in us.
And scripture tells us: “… a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. Amen.