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A Season of Aha! The Feast of the Epiphany

In 1948, country music star Hank Williams released a song with this refrain:

I saw the light, I saw the light; No more darkness, no more night.

Now I'm so happy, no sorrow in sight: Praise the Lord, I saw the light!

Hank Williams died at the age of 29. He was an alcoholic, and you might say this song

was about his recovery, what used to be called “getting back on the wagon.” Hank may have

seen the light, but his sight really didn’t keep him alive very long. And yet…

And yet, “I Saw the Light” became one of country gospel music’s most popular, most

recorded songs of all time. Bob Dylan, who has been on his own Christian journey, cited the

song as a source of religious significance for him. The Ole Miss “Pride of the South” marching

band still performs an arrangement as part of the pre-game repertoire.

When my son played in his high school band, all of us band parents wore T-shirts that

said, “I came…for the half-time show.” Today, we’re having a half-time show - also known as

coffee hour - before the second half of today’s festivities. At 11:45, we’ll have a conversation

about “Plans for the Future.” My hope? My prayer? We will come away from the second-half of

our time together today with a bit of insight, a bit more light to shine. Together, we’ll see what

we can see about All Saints’ Episcopal Church in 2024.

But first, in this half of our time together, we keep the feast of the Epiphany. I wanted to

make sure we made time for this festive day. It’s time to pay attention to the fact that the twelve

days and nights of Christmas have come to an end. The new season of Epiphany has begun. The

official day in the calendar for Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans, including

Episcopalians, was actually yesterday, January 6th. But our Prayer Book says that Epiphany

takes precedence over any other day we might observe (page 15). And so, today, at All Saints’,

we are celebrating Epiphany’s feast.

Epiphany celebrations which began centuries ago still abound around the world. Each

year Martha Washington (George’s wife) would make a huge 12th Night Cake to honor their

wedding anniversary: January 5th, 1759. The English observe Epiphany as a time to make

mulled cider called “Wassail.” Bands of beggars danced their way through the snowy streets of

England, singing of good cheer, telling a good fortune, in exchange for a drink from the host’s

wassail bowl. Eventually, wassailing evolved…into caroling.

St. Mary’s Cathedral asked members to bring Christmas trees to be burned at night,

creating light in the darkness. Some church folk use chalk to mark the new year on front doors,

with the initials of the three wise guys - C, M, and B for Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar - placed

in the middle of the new year’s number. Yes, Christians have been remembering the date of

January 6th much, much longer than three years. The feast of the Epiphany is a good time for us

to remember: In God’s universe, the Herods, Kings and Autocrats of the world never win. God's

grace and mercy always prevail.

The word “epiphany,” like so many others, comes from ancient languages. In Greek, it

means “to bring to light.” “Manifestation” is the word often used to describe an epiphany.

When something is made manifest, it becomes clear or obvious to the eye or to the mind, in a

new way. Something theoretical or invisible is made real, made visible.

The first manifestation of Jesus - God in person, with real flesh on - was made to Mary

and Joseph, his Jewish parents. Then, as we heard in our Gospel account, “wise men from the

East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we

observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage’” (Matthew 2:1-2). Those

three, wise foreigners receive a second epiphany, if you will, the second manifestation of Jesus -

not to Jews, but to them, as Gentiles.

The Magi, those non-Jewish astrologers, followed a brilliant star to the place of Jesus’

birth, where they honored the Christ child with gifts. Upon seeing baby Jesus, they were

“overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2:10). They saw the light, alright.

Church historian Dr. Diana Butler Bass gives us some context here. “The wise men

awaited a sign in the sky - a star - to guide them on their journey. Revelations break in, light

shines forth, and glory appears. Such things (come) from the realms of mystery, awe, and

wonder. They surprise and disrupt the normal course of existence.

“Epiphanies are not of our making,” Dr. Diana says. (They are “Aha!” moments.) “But it

would be a mistake to believe we are only passive recipients of epiphanies. We need to be alert

for their appearance and search out the trailings of their presence. Manifestations are missed

(when we aren’t) attentive…to possibilities of sacred surprise.

“Can we be open to the possibility that ‘aha’ moments might happen anywhere and

anytime? Maybe epiphanies - not just big, dramatic, starry ones - are manifesting themselves all

around us in ways we don’t expect, and they hold the promise of insight and deeper

understanding in (our) everyday (life).

“When the Wise Men go home - when (our Christmas) trees come down, things return to

normal. Or do they? The beautiful, unexpected, and even unbelievable story of (Immanuel),

God-With-Us in a cradle, invites us to a rebirth of imagination.

So…“What epiphanies lie ahead?” Diana Butler Bass asks. Another way to put the

question is: Where is the “Aha!” light that waits to break through to us, as it did with Jesus -

even now? “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,”

the prophet Isaiah proclaimed centuries before Jesus’ birth (60:1).

No matter how thick and deep the darkness may seem; no matter how depressed and

despondent we may get; no matter how uncertain the future may look…the light of love, the light

of hope has come, like a rising star. In his darkest days, Hank Williams saw the light. Will we?

Will the God in Jesus be made manifest in us?

I wonder: How might All Saints’ have her own Epiphany “Aha!”?

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

January 7, 2023


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