Sunday, January 4, 2009

Epiphany Sunday

Epiphany literally means "to reveal" or "to make known".  It is celebrated on January 6th and is the culmination of the 12 Days of Christmas.  Traditionally during this time, Christians remember the story of the Magi who recognized the significance of the signs and times, who journeyed far to find the Christ child and worshipped Him, bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  A well-known Christmas song, The First Noel, is actually an Epiphany song which tells the story of the Magi:

"And by the light of that same star, three Wise Men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent, and to follow the star where'er it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest, over Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those Wise Men three, full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in His presence, their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

God had revealed and made known the eminent arrival and birth of His son first through the angel Gabriel's announcement (Luke 1), then through the Virgin's song (L.1) and the angelic announcement to the shepherds (Luke 2), and finally to the wise men of the East by the appearance and guidance of a star (Matthew 2).  The Light of the World was made manifest in a world full of darkness and pain, sin and sorrow, and that is the Good News of Epiphany.
 In years past, once Christmas Day was over at our house, Christmastime itself was over and it was time to pack it all away until next year.  But it always seemed like something remained, that the holiday had not had a proper conclusion, and that let-down feeling was hard to shake even though we'd enjoyed Advent and Christmas fully.  But in the past 2 or 3 years, we've had the joy of learning to continue the celebration during the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany.  There are still many things from the Christmas story to celebrate and to continue to meditate upon:  the Magi, Herod and the slaughter of the Innocents, the purification of Jesus and Mary in the temple and the words there of Simeon and Anna.  Such significance and richness deserves and demands our attention.  

I'd love to share with you the Epiphany traditions we've developed both at home and at church, but I think I'll save that until another Christmastime, for this year we've contemplated the season in another profound way.  The birth and death of our grandson, Beau, our own flesh and blood, has forever changed us and the way we think and feel about things.  Through Beau, the Lord has brought us closer to Him and, hopefully, to a better understanding of redemption.  We cannot read the Christmas and Epiphany stories without thinking differently about another Baby who came to die and of another mother whose soul was pierced.  We are forever changed.

Recently a friend shared a poem she'd read by Bethany Hudson on her website The Apple Cider Mill.  Bethany's cousin had lost a baby just before Christmas and she wrote the poem as she, too, pondered the paradox of Christmas.  With Bethany's permission, I have reprinted this beautiful and poignant poem for you. 

"Myrrh"
by Bethany Hudson

The week before Christmas, 
I got a call from New York.
Expecting Christmas greetings
or questions about presents,
I was surprised to hear my mother's 
voice so somber-sad
as she told me,
"Jenny lost the baby."

"It was a little girl.
The cord wrapped around her neck.
They had to take her.
She didn't make it.
It's very private.
Jenny and Michael seem to handling things well.
I hope this won't distress you."

To be honest,
I was too shocked for distress.
I just kept thinking,
How could God let this happen?
How could this baby,
due in January,
meet her death before her birth?
How could God let this happen?
And why now?
At Christmas?

Over the next few days,
I found myself thinking more about
Easter than Christmas:
more of death than birth.
And somehow in this mystery
of incarnation,
I found peace
for the mystery of this loss.

It still doesn't make sense.
But, I know how it could happen.
It's all happened before.

The manger doesn't seems so peaceful to me now.
Instead of a silent night,
I see Mary bellowing in pain,
Joseph trembling in fear,
wondering, would this baby live?
In blood,
on straw shared with animals,
our God was born
into a world that sought his death,
and the wiseman brought him myrrh.

Such a strange and morbid gift.
What must Mary have thought?
Did she ponder it in her heart?
That gift of myrrh at birth,
a birth already meant for
early death upon a cross?
Did she wonder what it meant?
Or, did she know?

And, as we drink our eggnog,
sing our carols,
light the tree,
do we consider what
is coming
when winter dies
and spring gives birth?
Do we think about
this baby boy,
born in a barn,
as the savor
who will die so young?

This Christmas, my cousin
will understand the gift of myrrh,
as she buries her hopes and dreams
in a tiny coffin.
As she grieves, 
she will recall the birth 
of another baby
whose mother's joy gave
way to mourning.

Gold for the King.
Frankincense for the priest.
But, myrrh for the mother,
whose heart would break
with the body of her son.

Myrrh for a birth
married with death,
but death conjoined
to life, through resurrection.
By His birth, 
His death,
He has purchased our salvation.
And, by His birth,
I may find peace 
in the death
of a baby girl.
Through this Christ,
we may find peace
for any pain we find in life.

This is the gift of myrrh.


1 comment:

tt said...

Oh L., it is the gift of myrrh. It's the one that makes us cry when we are praising, when life is good and we're at peace, because we know, that gift comes with such a price. What love it took to give that gift. And how hard it is for some to receive it. So embrace it, and cry, and keep moving forward.
Love you.