Happy Feast of the Epiphany—the day we commemorate the arrival of the Magi at the birthplace of the Christ child, by way of a star. It is also the day our Eastern brothers and sisters celebrate their Christmas feast.
The Magi have always held a particular place of intrigue in my heart. No doubt this is a lingering effect of the family heirloom wise men we set out each year as a child, painted by my great aunt.
Without fail, these characters are the most interesting and ornate to arrive at the manger scene—riding camels by night and representing educated, foreign, seekers; they are often depicted wearing brightly-colored robes and turbans, with boxes of precious and symbolic gifts no one would have thought to bring a child born in a manger.
Gold: precious metal
Frankincense: fragrant perfume
Myrrh: oil of anointing
In Jesus’ case, it’s been speculated that the gift of gold would have implied his kingship, frankincense, Jesus’ priestly role, and myrrh a foretelling of his death and the anointing he would receive.
Epiphany is one of those words that has somehow made its way it into the cultural vernacular and I love it—it implies a great revelation or discovery. Best of all, we might hear this phrase casually in a business meeting or a brainstorming session! It continues to give a nod to the light that revealed the Light of the world at the manger as an experience accessible to anyone paying attention.
Outside of this day, the Magi don’t receive a lot of attention in the Nativity story. Yet, if it weren’t for their attentiveness to the stars, or the wisdom they received (and responded to) in the quiet of a dream to bypass King Herod, the story we have been celebrating these past twelve days might have been told differently.
Providentially, my library request for Barbara Brown Taylor’s, Learning to Walk in the Dark arrived during Advent, and I devoured it. I devoured it because of its beautiful metaphors for the Advent season, but the compelling way she describes our wonderment around the less-familiar world illuminated by stars. She speaks of our suspicion of what we don’t know, as well as our complete and utter dependence upon our time in the dark for any illumination we hope to find.
“Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have
learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again,
so that there is really only one logical conclusion.
I need darkness as much as I need light.”
We in the northern hemisphere might be experts on this by now. This half of the year, with its fleeting daylight hours and lengthy evenings, offers us a necessary downbeat counterpart to the perky, staccato of summer hours. The land rests, and so too, do we. Rather than cookouts and softball, we’re called to quiet a bit. More often than not, this means a retreat inside, to catch up on a book, schedule a meeting, see a movie.
But, what if our quiet invited us to step outside?
I took Barbara at her word over Christmas, inspired a little by Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon, and took our Christmas crew owling after dinner in the dark of the night—which is to say we went walking at night in hopes of spotting or listening to our neighboring great horned owls. It was cold and crisp and we didn’t spot any owls. What we did was venture into the mystery of the darkness outside of our front door and our routine that other nights is off-limits. We trekked over snow and bridge and trail together in silence and anticipation of what we might find.
We are not Magi, but as the familiar star over our garage came back into view upon our return, it felt good to be seeking and thrilling to be on the lookout. In the spirit of the wise men, may 2019 find us on the lookout for an epiphany or two of our own.
“...new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground,
a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
For those of you interested in other book suggestions for the New Year, hop on over to Blessed Is She for a month-by-month book list, paired with the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.