I once took piano lessons. I recall placing my fingers on the white keys, readying myself for the first notes. Now I place my fingers on the black keys of my keyboard and ready myself for the first letters. Notes and letters are both signs, symbols that link us, communicate to us, through our hearing, our seeing, our thinking, our feeling. They are manifestations of something outside ourselves. They are the tools of art, for they manifest and interpret our world and man’s place in it.
I was thinking this week about truth and what it is and how it is communicated and how one discerns the notes, the letters, the meanings. History is a compilation of signs, written accounts, oral accounts, often a mystery to be solved. What actually happened? Why? How? When?
Epiphany is the celebration of Christ’s manifestation to the world, and today, the First Sunday after Epiphany, our Gospel reading was about his manifestation in the Jerusalem temple at age twelve, when he astounded the priests with his wisdom. Wednesday’s reading, on the actual Festival of Epiphany, told of the Wise Men visiting the Christ Child, bringing him gifts. They were the scientists of the day, those who studied the universe, the stars, for signs in the heavens. Heaven reflected earth; the star that appeared in the East was portentous, a sign of a great event. A king was born. These magi brought gold for his kingship, frankincense for his Godhead, and myrrh for his burial. We too honor his royalty and his divinity. But most of all we are thankful for his death, for his suffering and dying could only occur by taking on our humanity. God became one of us in human history; he knows the suffering of the flesh; we suffer too in our flesh. With his resurrection we rise, our own wounds are his.
Epiphanytide includes other manifestations of Christ’s appearance among men: his baptism in the River Jordan by John; the water turned to wine at the wedding in Cana. The portrait of Christ takes shape as broad strokes reveal him.
Such love to come among us like this. And not only two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, but today he comes among us as well, suffers with us, heals our wounds. He lives.
How do we read the signs? How do we interpret history? The evidence is plentiful for those who can see, but why do some see and some remain blind? Why do some hear the music and others remain deaf? I do not know. Free will. The Fall. The activity of evil in our world, blinding us.
We can only witness to our own lives. I know that faithfulness brings vision. Weekly worship and the Eucharist, with all of its marvelous signs and wonders, feeds and strengthens, gives sight and hearing.
Today at St. Peter’s we removed the red poinsettias from the altar. We packed away the crèche figures and the green wreathes and swags. We have been given Christ in the Festival of Christmas. Now we must proclaim his signs and wonders in the Festival of Epiphany.
We joined one another afterwards to celebrate two birthdays in our Body of Christ, signs in themselves of life and death, as we mark our passage through time with these happy yearly rituals. For birthdays are signs of the gift of life and the time given to each of us on this earth. They are manifestations of the love of God, personal Epiphanies.
As St. Paul writes in the Epistle for today, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Indeed. We left St. Peter’s transformed, our minds renewed by the many epiphanies of Christ, by the signs of God’s great love.