AfterWords | Olive-Epiphany (January 9, 2022)
AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
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A 3-Minute Read
O thou most holy and beloved, my companion,
my Guide upon the way,
my bright evening star.
~ The New Zealand Prayer Book
And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:12)
New Year’s Day. I am sweeping the front porch with fervor. The old straw broom is my weapon, the enemy an abundance of pine needles shed as the Christmas tree was dragged to its demise. I hate the ending of the holidays; add to that Omicron uneasiness. Sweep, sweep! Better to quarrel with tree-debris than the humans inside the house.
We are all inside the house. Again. We are taking turns keeping Sadie, who has special needs—it’s been announced the school doors will remain SARS-CoV-2 shuttered. It feels like déjà-virus.
It also feels tired and clichéd, this path I’m heading down toward disgruntlement. Isn’t the whole world doing that? This is the sense I get from the 5.45 by 2.65-inch device to which I am so devoted. It informs me we are doomed.
Happy New Year? Bah-humbug!
Surely there is a better way, an alternative to angst. And then. A horn blares, not a car horn but one of those dollar-store horns that go with champagne and “Auld Lang Syne.” Next door, three-year-old Olive marches in circles around the driveway, blowing the living heck out of said horn. A one-girl parade, unbothered by the news du jour. Olive is delighted with her toy. She blows with fervor.
I stop sweeping, startled by joy. Blow, Olive, blow…
Of course there is another way. Sometimes God teaches you hard; sometimes he teaches you soft. This day, he teaches me soft, with a party horn.
Too often, I choose the circuitous route to sanity. Olive’s horn heralds a shortcut. Welcome, thou my best thought, by day or by night. Why, I believe we’ve met!
Throughout December, I’m in awe of God with us. He came! Then follows the post-Christmas thud. The thud is real, and it’s not pretty—the bleak midwinter begins before the sun sets on Boxing Day. Husband Luke reminds me: “He still came!”
The church calendar reminds me, too. January 6 brings Epiphany, celebrating the revelation of the incarnation. There’s even a Christmas-y song!
O star of wonder, star of night,
star with royal beauty bright,
guide us to thy perfect light.
Star-seekers: While the world rushes back to business as usual, Epiphanytide invites us to take stock. We can walk a different direction, like the Magi who followed the star and then, being warned in a dream, traveled home by another way. The direction of their coming and going was unexpected.
God is unveiled in unexpected places. (In girl with horn!)
While New Year’s resolutions rarely pan out, the 40-day season of Epiphany offers us a chance to go deeper.
Eugene Peterson’s questions beg us to pause and reflect.
Is this a real life, or just some cheap imitation passed off on me by a sleight-of-hand culture?
Is what I am doing and saying my own or just borrowed from people who know less than I do about who I am and what I am for?
Is God skillfully shaping and wisely guiding my life, or have I let my untutored whims and infantile sins reduced me to the lowest common denominator?
Is this the way I want to spend the rest of my life?
Peterson’s queries were presented during Sunday’s service, an invitation to lean inward and test the integrity of our lives. What’s working? What’s not?
What is God inviting us into?
Perhaps a lovely place to start lies within the wonderful Epiphany Benediction:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among people,
to make music in the heart.
May you go as one sent in that work,
and may you go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
~ Howard Thurman
And, as another writer put it,
I still don’t love God or Jesus as much as I should, but I’m learning that my love of God grows through my love of people.
~ Madeleine L’Engle, Bright Evening Star
Afterthought to this AfterWords Post: Secret Ambassadors
Confession: For me, “Three Good Minutes” amounts to “Three Hard Minutes.” But I think this introvert has found another way: Scan the room for someone who looks more lost than I feel—and head straight over. On Sunday I approached a person new to The Parish, and she seemed genuinely relieved when she said, “Thank you for coming to talk to me.”
The week before our daughter’s wedding last June, I was nervous about all the guests coming from the groom’s side, folks I’d never met. I didn’t want them to feel… other-ly. So, I emailed (bcc-style) a number of friends on “our side” and asked them to act as “secret ambassadors” during the reception. You are sunny and interesting and kind, I wrote, and I’d love for you to keep an eye out for anyone who seems on the outside of things. Will you make them feel welcome? Halfway through cocktail hour, the secret ambassadors realized their mission was not solo; they were part of a team of many. “Here I was, thinking I was special,” one of them teased. “You are special,” I said. “You’re all special.”
Parishioners: In 2022, what if we served as secret ambassadors, opening our hands and hearts to anyone and everyone in our midst? After all, you are sunny and interesting and kind…