Epiphany: Orienting on the Star

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12img_5443

We prepare our souls to receive the light at Christmas during the festival of Advent, and we carry the Christmas light into the rest of the year through the festival of Epiphany. These two festivals, each four weeks long, hold the twelve days and nights of Christmas like two spirals–the one moving inward, the other spiraling back out and into the creation of the new year.

The three kings give us a picture of how we might enter the Christian year: not as marked by festivals like fixed stations which are always there, but as a journey we take each year that takes us into the new. The kings are not simply wandering, nor do they have a map which gives them a destination to head towards, but rather, they follow a Star–what at Epiphany we call the Star of Grace. It–unlike any other star in the heavens–moves before them, revealing the journey as they go. To follow it indicates that they have recognized the being behind that star. It is this being which speaks in their souls as something higher than any earthly king, before whom they bow down in highest reverence, offering their finest gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They recognize that even the highest on earth cannot offer what the Star of Grace brings to the earth.

King Herod presents another kind of kingship, an earth- and self-bound one. He is so consumed with his own power that he is unable to recognize anything higher than himself. He is unable to offer anything of himself and would rather murder innocent children than risk having his power undone.

A child who is feared by a powerful man and a star that moves both give us an opportunity to stretch our usual understanding of the world. The wise kings follow a star through which shines a bright new future for the true human spirit. The Star of Grace heralds the birth of this spirit who comes into the world as human spirits do: as a vulnerable child. At Christmas we can receive this great offering of the divine world, and through Epiphany, we can learn to orient ourselves anew, as ones who offer ourselves in devotion to the becoming one.

Holy Nights Contemplation: Christmas as a Festival of Offering

Adoration of the Shepherds by Georges de la Tour (1644)

Reading: John 21: 15-25

The Festival of Christmas calls us to celebrate the birth of the Child, the new human being. But what is that makes us truly human?

When we speak of the mistakes that we or others make, we sometimes say: Well, I’m only human. As in, don’t expect so much. I’ve got a lot to deal with in life, and I just couldn’t manage more than this. And it is true.

We can imagine all the situations in which we or another person in our lives just did not measure up to the expectations, hopes or desires of others or ourself. It is terribly painful to be aware of this. We miss a lot of opportunities to be our best self, to be something more than our ingrained habits or limitations allow us to be.

The experience of feeling “I’m only human” has something to do with the challenges of what it means to live incarnated in the world as a being of body, soul and spirit, all at the same time. We have aspects within our body and soul especially that give in to “gravity” more often than not. Things that pull us into ourselves, or down into the cares of life, losing ourselves in the desires of the soul and body, rather than finding ourselves through them (which is also possible!) We are prevented from taking risks by fear; we are hesitant to step out of our comfort zone and it is even hard to think of others sometimes. One could go on. But we all know the daily struggles that hold sway in the inner dialogue that is happening all the time.

Probably each of us can say something about what being “truly human” means—the hopeful side, the ideal, the potential that lives in our spirit: the shining example of true humanity that each of us also longs to make real. Our hearts are desperate to be able to stretch into this truer way of being. We say of a person who we deeply admire—that person is a real Mensch. This is the picture of the human being who is present to the needs of others, who makes time for what is important, who strives to be more human for the world around them.

What makes it possible for us to become that kind of human being more of the time? It is in the practice of offering. Offering, by necessity, is a free act. No one can make us offer of ourselves. Only each of us can say: I will offer of myself—my gifts, my talents, my money, my thoughts, my heart, my devotion. At Christmas, the greatest act of offering is made to show us the way: the divine world offers, and the Son of God is born on earth to become one with us. We receive the offering of the divine, and we are inspired to make of our own lives an offering.

We exercise our highest potential as human beings when, regardless of what we have, who we are, how poor we feel—we offer something of ourselves into the world. There is nothing more human, and there is nothing more valuable than this gift. This is our practice of learning to love, and this is how we follow Him, the being of Love incarnate. This is the deed by which we can join in the healing of the whole world.

Holy Nights Contemplation: Advent in the Christian Year

Gospel reading: Luke 21:25-26IMG_4981.JPG

During these Holy Nights, we will look at the evolution of the Christian festivals through the course of the year. Perhaps it is a bit jolting to hear the gospel reading from Advent this morning, now that we stand firmly in the light of the Christmas festival. But the Holy Nights give us a special opportunity to look at the coming year during this time called “the year between the years,” and in these days, we will enter into the Christian festivals to better prepare the year ahead. Held by the special mood of Christmas, we can perhaps gain new insights into the meaning of the ongoing Christian story for our lives.

At Christmas, the Child is placed before us. When Christmas first broke upon the world, it was a new revelation, a great act of God’s love for us: we were losing our way, and a new beginning was given to us in the Child.

In that time, the Advent preparation was hidden from us, it was not a human act but took place in the heavenly realms, the long preparation for the Incarnation of the Son of God. It was only visible to human beings in the wise guidance given to the Israelites, in their religious devotion to living the Law given through Moses, to create a right hereditary stream for the preparation of an earthly human being who could receive the divine. Forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus.

But we have progressed, and the human being is now asked to celebrate Advent in order to rightly prepare for the birth at Christmas, which has grown now out of that first birth. The birth that was initiated so long ago continues now: the birth of the true human being, “spiritual-physical.” This is the human being who we are becoming, the one conceived of in the Creation of the World, the one made in God’s image.

And at Advent, it is not the child placed before us—no, the reading we hear places us firmly in our troubled, tumultuous times—a grown up description of the true state of things. And into the center of this time on earth, it is the Son of Man who is placed before our souls. A new human being, who was first born in and through that Child God born on earth. Through his life, death, resurrection, and Ascension, he becomes something new for us: a new Ancestor, to begin a new hereditary stream from within our present humanity.

This is how we can say we are human beings, and yet we are not yet fully human. This is why any one of us, despite what we have been given in the past, whatever we have suffered or felt bound to, we always have a chance to change our lives. We can relate to our family or origin in new ways, and we can make bonds of love and commitment to those who are not within that stream. We can change the course of our destiny! It is not easy, but it is possible.

We need Advent every year to hep prepare for this ever deepening birth: the human being is being reborn from the inside: to overcome the forces of the past and of death, and develop a new capacity to love that encompasses the whole world.