"O Morning Star, how fair and bright
Thou beamest forth in truth and light...
Thou heavenly brightness, light divine,
O deep within my heart now shine,
And make thee there an altar ...."
- Philipp Nicolai, 1599
Sometime between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6 each year, Christian churches complete their Advent-Christmas season by celebrating "Epiphany," on or near the day we believe the "Wise Men" ended their star-driven journey to Bethlehem and caught their first glimpse of the Christ Child.
Because it's my responsibility to select the hymns for Sunday worship, I chose the familiar, "We Three Kings," for that day, even as I knew the text was a mixture of fact and fiction.
"We Three Kings of Orient are..." Yes, they were from the Orient (the East) but they were not kings, and we're only guessing at their number because it matches the number of gifts they brought with them (Matthew 2:1-11).
Although other verses explain the meaning of those gifts - and make wonderful scenes for our annual Christmas pageant -- the most important line of the hymn occurs when the hymn writer turns his attention to the star that, "westward leading, still proceeding, guide(s) us to thy perfect light."
Epiphany! Or, as Webster writes, "A sudden burst of insight - light - or understanding."
These Wise Men, or Magi, would have had great learning, perhaps in medicine or philosophy, as well as an interest in astrology. They were not Jews, but they knew the prophecies about a Jewish Messiah, and they were willing to cross country and creed to see if that prophecy had come true.
It's also important that they were the first Gentiles to see the "new-born King," and the first evidence that God had sent his Son to be the Savior of the whole world.
But epiphany can occur any time, whenever something we didn't understand suddenly becomes clear. For me, that happens most often in the spiritual realm, when something that appears one way on the surface suddenly reveals a deeper meaning underneath.
For example, when God told Eve that, because of her sin, "your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16), I thought it was God's plan for women to be "submissive," or under the rule of men. But this became a dilemma for me as I grew older, especially when society began pushing for equality between men and women in the marketplace as well as the home.
My epiphany occurred when I learned that this verse was God's prediction of what was likely to happen in a sinful world, rather than his desire that women - who also were created in his image - should be inferior to men.
Epiphanies can also be very simple, like finding new meaning in something we've heard many times before. As I've often discovered, the author of Hebrews was correct when he wrote, "The word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword (4:12)," because that "living word" can become a verbal chameleon, highlighting the "color" that matches the meaning I need at a particular moment.
That's what happened the other day when I read Romans 12:1 for the umpteenth time. St. Paul had been teaching these new Christians about serving God and I remembered that they were to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice," but I had forgotten he also said, "which is your reasonable service."
As someone who often complains about my lengthy "to-do" list, that was a bull's eye epiphany. What Paul meant, and I finally understood, is after what God and others have done for me, I have little room to complain about the privilege of "sacrificing" some of my time back to them.
Happy Epiphany, everyone! May you discover your "way" in 2006.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
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