Happy Epiphany

A blessed Epiphany to everyone! Now the work of Christmas begins…

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…

Then the work of Christmas begins.

— Howard Thurman

Christmas Eve

It’s been so long–it’s hard to finally pull the trigger and sit down and write. Writing is, after all, such a discipline. But it’s Christmas Eve, and for better or worse, I think the sermon is done. I’ll probably edit it a few more times, look for a few different adjectives, but all in all, it’s done. And Christmas Day’s sermon is in my head, trusting that the words will tumble out of my mouth at the right time and place. Presents? Wrapped. Breakfast? Eaten. Coffee? Hot. So what’s left to do but write?

This year I started a Wednesday night Contemplative Eucharist–i.e. one that has less talk and a lot of silence (which for those who know me, know that means a great big challenge). And it’s been a wonderful experience. All these people are coming (17, which doesn’t sound big, but let me tell you, for a church with 80 people on Sunday, that’s a good number). Some of them are regular Sunday folk, but some, I daresay, most are people who I’ve never seen on a Sunday morning. People who have snuck in the door, hoping to be anonymous, looking, I suspect for a little space, a little quiet, a little light in the darkness.

One of the best features of our church is our ability to play with light and dark. The lights are set so low that you can barely read the text, yet somehow we do. And in that darkness are candles and incense and chants. And then there is the Eucharistic prayer itself. My favorite, the one I use most of the time is from Iona. There are tweeks that my liturgical inner-geek has to do to make it appropriate, but on the whole, it’s a gorgeous piece of work, playing with the mystery of Christ and the incarnation. Perhaps my favorite part of the prayer is the bidding prayer which goes something like this:

So come to this table
You who have much faith and you who would like to have have more
You who have been to this sacrament often and you who have not been in a long time
You who have tried to follow Christ and you who have failed.
Come. It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

Perhaps more than anything, this prayer has shaped my year. The constant reminder that Christ calls us and at the same time Christ meets us right where we are, full of faith, full of doubt, full of hope, full of despair, or, like many of us, a lovely blend of it all–the beauty and tenderness of the human condition. Luther said that Christmas is for children and Easter is for adults and I understand that. But I think that he was off a bit. Christmas, for adults, allows us to remember the mystery of Christ coming close to us and us coming close to Christ (a line borrowed from that Eucharistic prayer, by the way). Christ comes close in the form of a baby, Christ comes close in a form that we both adore and fear. For what parent hasn’t shaken, just a little bit, with the realization of what parenthood means, what care it calls for? And yet, in that crib, lies the hope of all humanity, the hope of innocence, the hope of new beginnings, the hope of goodness that all babies have. And the mystery of what the tableau all means. Beyond the pageants, beyond the carols, beyond the presents and the tree, there is the hope of an irrational, wild love that descends, ready or not, for us.

A joyful Christmas tide to all. In the new year I promise to try and be more faithful. In the mean time, I’ll leave you with this, my favorite set of words for this season, from Madeline L’Engle:
This is the irrational season/ When love blooms bright and wild/ For if Mary had been filled with reason/ There’d have been no room for the child.

putting mary away

yesterday we had lessons and carols to celebrate the epiphany. organist, who was beyond cute, got sooo into making chrismons this year. we made them in advent and then had people return them on epiphany to hang on our epiphany tree (thank you wal-greens after christmas sale–6 foot pre-lit for $9.25). we sang and heard carols, i read some of my favorite words in the bidding prayer and the house was packed. lots of newcomers and newcomer cards today. i slept for 3 hours on sunday afternoon and it was that sleep that comes from the mixture of exhaustion and joy.

today two amazing people (who happen to attend st. pete’s) came over and with the help of sacristan, we took down christmas. the wreathes, the poinsettias, the epiphany tree. last, but not least, we put away the new creche. there is something sad to box it all away. the safety of the story goes away with it too. now is the time when the family will flee to egypt to escape herod’s wrath. and soon, all too soon, the journey to good friday will come. the soft red light bulb which makes a pretty light on the little stable was replaced with the standard milky white one, tape and bubble wrap cover the holy family until they can reappear once more next year. christmas is over and the work begins again.

and so this is christmas…

did you know that starbucks is open on christmas day? not all of them, but the one in lakeview on broadway is. i overheard them today talking about it. the store is decked out in christmas array. and christmas music starts on monday. there are (according to what i overheard) 3 different versions of rudolph the red nose reindeer, 4 different versions of jingle bells (or some other number that is equally popular) and perhaps some rendition of the little drummer boy (that song makes me wretch).

my bff works at starbucks and i’m pretty sure he’s off on christmas day (i hope so as i’m planning to have him over after church). but nonetheless, it occurs to me that we have no real concept sabbath rest in our culture. sabbath is so essential in both the jewish and christian culture, faith and life. has america lost this notion? perhaps we used to–perhaps when religious life was more the norm.

the light at walgreens flashes “we’re open all day on thanksgiving” as does the sign at the jewel and at starbucks. so we pay these underpaid workers time and a half to give up being with family and friends. and for some people, the holidays mean nothing so why not work. but what concerns me is that we have lost the notion of sabbath (if we ever had it). we are so busy doing that we forget how to just be.

and then there’s the fact that its not even thanksgiving and we’re decorated for christmas. egad. but, if i’m honest, i love the holiday lights and colours. i know, i know, i’m supposed to keep the seasons of advent and christmas separate. and in church i do. we sing advent hymns, i preach advent themes. but at home–well–the tree goes up and my house becomes a holiday explosion. please don’t call the advent police!