Friday, January 22, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Happy Epiphany

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Happy Epiphany. Or Tres Reyes or Drei K├Ânige or whatever it is called throughout the world. It’s a bigger holiday in many countries and cultures than it is here.

In fact, you may never have even heard of Epiphany. But you might want to.

In Western churches like Roman Catholics or Anglicans, Epiphany commemorates the visitation of the wise men from the east who brought the infant Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Eastern churches – Russian and Greek Orthodox, for example, Epiphany refers to the baptism of Christ.

How, you may ask, can two different groups have a holiday by the same name that commemorates different events? Easy. The key is that the word means “appearance” or “manifestation,” and it means that in these events, Jesus’ divinity is made clear to the world.

The whole world. Not just the chosen people.

Our more familiar celebration of the visit of the wise men – or magi, as they are also called – is celebrated January 6 often with special cakes, parades and other fun stuff we miss out on here in America. It officially marks the end of Christmas (you know that song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? Well count back from January 6 and see where that takes you.)

But the important thing for Christians is that Epiphany says God’s love is open to everyone.

This may not seem very revolutionary, but in a day and age where gods were territorial and where each country – heck, each county sometimes – had its own god, it was pretty big. Even in Judaism, God was seen to be specific to that country, that group of people. Epiphany is meant to tell us that God is God of everyone, and that the benefits of loving God are open to all.

This may not mean a lot if you don’t believe in God or if you look around the world and rightly recognize that the Church (generically) has often brought pain and suffering rather than the love it was supposed to. Even so, there is power in this commemoration.

The power is not that people of faith have done nothing but good. Obviously, that is not true. It will never be true. I’m sorry to say that, regardless of a person’s or a nation’s stated beliefs – or lack of belief – they are people. People tend to throw the rules of Love out the window when it comes to their own interests. This has been true for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists to name a few.

But what Epiphany can remind us of – again, regardless of our beliefs – is that this is a small world, and we are all connected. What happens to a child in, say Zimbabwe, affects me. What happens to an old man in, say Hyde Park, affects a young woman in Vietnam. For people of faith we say that we are all God’s children. For others, perhaps, they might say that we are inhabitants of the same island.

Either way, what it says is that you and I are connected and that we matter to each other. We can choose to forget it if we want – we often do – but it’s still true. And that manifestation of God’s love to the whole world is a good place to start recognizing it.