For me, this week is the best part of Christmas. The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made. And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th. Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted. January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly, time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake. Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.
It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem. The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star. Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate. Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)
As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees. So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.
The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.
In my mind, it is as if time stood still. King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.
If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105 (NLT)
January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany. I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him. I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light. I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God. I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.
If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:15-16
I recently had a conversation with my thirteen-year-old son that given his permission I want to share with you. As we were driving home one evening, he was feeling nostalgic about his cousin’s former home and all his good memories there. It was a sad moment with longing for the way things were and wishing they had not changed. I mentioned to him that it seemed he liked the sadness of the memory and that often it seems he enjoys melancholy thoughts. He agreed with me and said, “I don’t know why.” I was about to move into a lesson moment of how that is not healthy, and he should focus on the good things, but I stopped myself. Instead, I told him the story of when at four-years-old he told me he didn’t want to turn five. “I like being four,” he said. I then told him of the time when he was eight and while watching a father and son play together looked up at me and said, “I can’t wait to be a dad.”
It was a wonder-full discussion. Longing for the cherished moments in our lives is a good thing that we should not cast aside too quickly. It is an expression of gratitude for the people and places, for the moment and the memory. It is okay to be pensive at times. But we should not stay there. We must also remember that the past was not perfect, there is always a blending of joys and sorrows. We can use the joy and love in those moments to carry us through difficult times to come. Those moments enable us to anticipate the future with hope.
Those moments that we long to return to were leading us to new adventures, in new places, with new people. We cannot go back in time, but we can take the joy and love of those moments into the future with us. Our future will be richer than the past for the experiences of love and connection we bring into it. If we remember each day to connect and build relationships with each other and with our Creator, we will continually be led toward something better.
The following day on our drive home he asked me, “Is it weird that I am a little excited about dying? I kinda can’t wait to see what heaven is like.” A moment of melancholy transformed into a moment of hope for a future in the city that is prepared for him.
I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14
Can you recall a moment from the past that was so cherished you would like to return to it? Can you move past that into a thought of anticipation for a moment that is yet to come?
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” John 20:25-27 (NRSV)
As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.” What specifically am I asking for? In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown. Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding? Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity. How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises. It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received. So, what can we be sure of?
Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist. We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale. But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut. Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible. The intended message, however, is not.
When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death. They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on. Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.
The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace. That is clear enough for me. God is Love. Jesus shows us what love looks like. By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.