January 2012

A Season of Light

Isn't it odd that these cold dark weeks of winter coincide for us with the church season of Epiphany, a "Season of Light"? Depending on your religious background and experience, Epiphany may not be a familiar term. It means something like manifestation, unveiling, revelation. It follows Advent and the twelve days of Christmas. On the day of Epiphany, January 6th, Christendom commemorates and celebrates the presentation of gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh by the magi as they knelt before the Christ child. The magi are understood to have been counselors to kings in countries to the east of Palestine. They studied the heavens and the movement of celestial bodies in order to understand the operations of creation and to discern the signs of the times. Through the story of the magi, the church affirmed that in Jesus, the long promised messiah had come, and not just for one people, but for all people: east and west, high and low, rich and poor, shepherds and magi.

Epiphany as a season begins on January 6th and continues then for all the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. These are some of the coldest and darkest weeks of the year (at least for us in the northern hemisphere – it's a different story in New Zealand). When you stop to think about it, winter is perfect for the Season of Light, the antidote for our experience of the darkness.

I expect you are aware of a phenomenon called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Perhaps you experience personally. It is a darkening of one's mood, ranging from the blues to major depression, linked to the darkening of the days. Treatment often includes exposure to bright, full-spectrum lights (and a trip to the Caribbean).

In a correlative sense, there is a darkness to our lives that needs to be irradiated with the light of God's grace. In the darkest days of my life, I know that I needed some medical attention and some therapy; but I also know I needed to experience God's loving presence with me and for me. I needed, and I know that I will always need, God's light in my life. Some days are full of sunshine; some days are dark and drear. Some days I can see that light for myself; some days I need others to see and be it for me.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus as Messiah, the Christ, Emmanu-El. Angels lit up the sky over the shepherds announcing his birth. A star rose in the East and guided the magi to Bethlehem to kneel before him. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell the birth narratives. The Gospel of John waxes poetic with the cosmic narrative. The Light came into the world in the person of the Christ child. That light shone in the darkness. The darkness did its best to extinguish the light. But not even the darkness of brutality and death could do it. The darkness could not overcome the light. The sun was eclipsed for three hours; the light blinked, but then returned more beautiful, more powerful, and brighter than before.

This is Epiphany, the Season of Light. Despite what the almanacs and newspapers may print for sunrise and sunset, we believe in a sunrise that is everlasting. With Job, who experienced plenty of darkness, we dare to sing, "I know that my redeemer liveth!" We turn our faces, our minds and hearts, to the light. We look with faith for the epiphanies, the intimations and manifestations of that One who IS the incomparable and unconquerable Light of the World.