In this time of unrest and confusion and lockdowns, I have found the Church to be a godsend, and it is, of course, a literal God-send. For the Church Year has structured my days and months in a time that is seemingly timeless and unstructured, a floating time, streams merging seconds into minutes.
The secular world has crushed time in an overabundance of flu-fear, has voided time of meaning, shuttering weekly worship and other gatherings, social events, sports events, academic events, that not only connect us to one another, teaching us to love, but structure our time into intervals of meaning. In the past we did this, this, and this. In the future we plan to do this, this, and this. These tools of sanity, our mental calendars that divide the immense future into manageable portions, have been taken away. All is chaos. The past is soon erased. The future is unknown.
I have written a good deal about cancel culture in my novels, particularly in the more recent Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, April 2020). Today free speech is cancelled if deemed uncomfortable. Debate no longer invites charitable reasoning. Emotion rules the day. Lies reshape perception, incited by emotion, not truth.
And so, I particularly welcomed today’s celebration of Epiphany, the light of truth, the light of God manifesting the divinity of Christ Jesus. It is a piercing light, for honesty is not always agreeable. It is a cleansing light, for confession cleans the soul: Christians are called to scrub their souls regularly, with humility, with the light of truth. We don’t always like what we see, but we emerge cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Only then can we remain sane.
Truth. Light. The star led the magi to the manger, to the bed of the newborn King of Kings. These wise men fell on their knees and worshiped a baby in a stable, born to peasants, outcasts fleeing a powerful State. Christians today follow that same star in the heavens to the manger of this King of Kings. We too kneel and worship, stunned by the immense love of God our Creator. We too have become outcasts, for not only do we follow the light of the star, the light of truth, but we speak this truth in a time when a powerful State purges truthtellers.
America’s freedom, her democratic system, depends upon a free and honest press, not bought and paid for. Today, the mainstream press, including media of all kinds, is in the pay of powerful political interests, so that it is difficult for citizens to know the truth.
The race riots that began several years ago and resurfaced this summer in Portland, Seattle, and other cities across the nation were instigated by professional thugs, and these same figures reappeared last week, identified and arrested as those leading the break-in of the Capital. In all of these criminal riots, many bystanders were swept into the melee, often because they didn’t fully understand what was happening.
One truth that we must hold to be self-evident is that we cannot exist as a society with double standards of law and order. We are all equal under the law, and those responsible for leading riots should be held accountable. We should deplore all criminal activity, regardless of race, gender, political persuasion.
We need the light of that Epiphany star today in our national discourse, in our academic discourse, in our community discourse. We need to humble ourselves before the manger and admit we are not perfect. We need to listen to one another with respect and love. We need to encourage speech, not silence it. We need to unite, not divide; we need to find common ground as Americans.
And most of all, we need to seek the truth ourselves, not rely on the latest media sound bites, be it newscasts, social media, or Hollywood pundits anointing themselves as authorities. As our churches are shuttered, as the State decrees become suffocating, we can speak truth to power, as some have said.
To speak the truth, we step into the light of the Epiphany star brightening our own journey through time and take comfort from all that the Church gives us. The Church calendar organizes our thoughts and actions. We look back to the birth of Christ, the shepherds and the angels, the magi falling on their knees in worship. We look forward to the three Sundays of Epiphany, then to “Little Lent,” the three Sundays of preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent, then Lent which prepares us for Easter.
We are given ritual and song that unite us as one body, Christ’s Body, the Body of Christ, and we have access to that community virtually if not in person. The rituals recall and relive and recreate the great truths of God and Man, reminding us of who we are, children of a loving God. The song is our poetry of belief, the harmonious melodies of the Body of Christ. We sing of the angels and the manger and the magnificent moments of Christmas. We sing of the star and of the wise men. We sing of holiness, and sanctity, and love. We sing of all the glory that awaits us in Heaven and all the glory streaming among us – His Body – hinting at what we will soon see, what we will soon become.
We sing of truth, of faith, of hope, and of charity. We will never be silenced. We will never be cancelled.
As we step into the year 2021 in the light of that Epiphany star, we may be forced to choose between good and evil, truth and lies. We may be forced to take a stand, as those lawmakers in Washington last week were forced prematurely to do, forced by criminal mercenaries to choose sides without hearing the truth.
We must armor ourselves with truth, seek the truth, speak the truth. Will we?
Today’s appointed Gospel was the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, asking questions of the priests. He tells his mother Mary that he has been about his Father’s business. This is one of the manifestations of Epiphany, the light revealing who Jesus truly was and is. The next two Sundays will also be manifestations, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John, and his first miracle, turning water into wine in Cana. The light of truth reveals these historical events, so that we can see, so that we can understand, so that we can believe.
The Epistle today included the beautiful words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God… For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Romans 12:1+, BCP 110)
As churches are shuttered and we are silenced, we may become living sacrifices. As we present this reasonable service, not conformed to the world of deceit, we may be shunned. For we are transformed by Christ, who renews our minds with the truth of all creation, and we understand more and more what is good, what is acceptable, and what is the perfect will of God.
Within the light of this Epiphany star, within these holy moments of truth, we gather with one another, singing praises for all God has done for us, all that He has given us, all that is good, perfect, and true, for we are one body in Christ, every one members one of another.
This is the truth of the light of Epiphany.