The Feast of the Epiphany in the Christian tradition, celebrated on Jan. 6, fell on the same day this year that rioters attacked the United States Capitol. Epiphany commemorates the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus as well as the baptism of Jesus. The word itself clues us in to our understanding of the theological significance of the holiday.
An epiphany is a revelation. The revelation in the Christian tradition is of how Jesus is manifest in the world. As the gospel of John tells us, the word was made flesh and dwelled among or with us.
In its short two-week life span, 2021 has been a revealing year. Unlike what some hoped for, COVID did not magically disappear. We are experiencing it worse now than ever across the United States and especially in Georgia. Our greatest fears of a false narrative about the national election played out in a dramatic and violent scene on Epiphany. I could go on.
I had the opportunity to lead an opening reflection the other day for our staff and spoke about Epiphany. I invited those gathered on the zoom call to consider the question, “What is being revealed to you in this new year?”
One of my clergy friends recently shared on her Facebook feed the practice of “star words.” A popular practice associated with Epiphany and the start of a new calendar year, my friend invited her church members and Facebook friends to accept a star (with a word already printed on it) that she chose for them at random. You can find lists of epiphany star words on the internet, but some examples are patience, joy, and restraint. The word becomes something you focus on in the year ahead. It invites you to consider its meaning, especially as it relates to your life. What is being revealed to you through this word in the year ahead?
The Magi in the biblical story followed a star, which led them to a baby who would turn things upside down in their world. Valleys were lifted up and mountains made low. Rich men were told to sell all their possessions. People from across borders were meant to be neighbors, not enemies. In this new realm, that Jesus was ushering in, lions and lambs would lie together in a peaceable kin-dom. The one to whom the Magi brought their gold, frankincense, and myrrh revealed new ways of living in the world.
We likely have a tough few months ahead with the health crisis of COVID, continued political unrest, and living with the ongoing sin of white supremacy and racism. Not to mention economic woes that further reveal the hunger and poverty all around us. A good question I am keeping in front me is — what will it all reveal to me and how will I be changed for the better?
I am writing this article on the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was born, Jan. 15. This morning, I re-read King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” which reminds me, a white clergyman from the South, of my own need for repentance around racism. It also continues to draw me in to be a part of the change I want to see in the world.
I decided to meditate on the passage and see if I might find my own star word. The word that would not let me go was “wait.” King implored the white clergymen to whom the letter is addressed not to wait. He writes, “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’”
That is a searing message to people like me, a person in a place of great privilege.
“Wait,” my star word, will challenge me in a variety of ways. Ultimately, though, it reveals to me why, in some instances, waiting can be harmful.
The time is now for mercy, justice and love. These are not feel good sentiments but actions to be deployed like an army of compassionate neighbors into a world that God still loves.
Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford, Georgia, with his spouse and 8-year-old.