Epiphany

Bright Morning Star A-Rising

IF WE FOLLOWED the church calendar and celebrated Epiphany in January, we wouldn’t have to cram the wise men into the crèche to compete with the shepherds. We could save all the “Star of Bethlehem” songs to brighten the cold days of January. Obviously, the magi needed a few weeks to prepare and then travel “from the East.”

A new bright object in the sky was certainly an “epiphany,” but it was not totally unexpected. These magi were astrologers, the ancient astronomers of their day. To the east of Jerusalem lay Babylon, birthplace of astrology and location of a large Jewish community. The discovery of two astrological books among the Dead Sea scrolls showed that the sign of Aries the Ram in the zodiac represented the reign of Herod the Great in Judea. Since Herod was aging, it is not surprising that Jewish astrologers were watching this royal constellation.

In a television series called Jesus: The Complete Story, astronomer Michael R. Molnar notes an unusual astrological conjunction on the night of April 17, in 6 B.C.E., the year Jesus was most likely born. At that time, both Saturn and the sun were in the constellation Aries, and then the moon eclipsed to reveal Jupiter, king of the planets, also in Aries. Jupiter shone into the dawn, another auspicious sign of royalty. It was confirmation enough to send these astrologers on their way.

Perhaps if we celebrated Epiphany after Christmas, we’d have more time to learn about this epiphany and its remarkable interpretation.

Reta Halteman Finger, co-author of Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, taught Bible at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and writes a Bible study blog at www.eewc.com/RetasReflections.

[January 4] 

Who Recieves the Blessing? 
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalms 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18

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Rivers in the Desert: Why New Year's Day Is a Christian Holiday

Design36/Shutterstock

Design36/Shutterstock

Growing up in Texas, fairly close to New Orleans, I knew all about Mardi Gras. It was a big deal in the South, replete with combinations of debaucherous consumption and self-exposure. What I didn’t understand, being the good evangelical Protestant that I was at the time, was that it actually was the celebration preceding the liturgical period of Lent.

It was only once I framed the excesses of Mardi Gras with the self-discipline and austerity of Lent that it began to make much sense. Not that the gratuitous self-abuse was then justified, but at least it made more sense, given the things everyone was supposed to give up during the weeks to come.

This got me thinking about how we approach New Year’s Eve, and framing it, too, by what we expect and anticipate from New Year’s Day. Yes, the celebrations of New Year’s Eve are, in some ways, just an excuse to indulge ourselves in excessive partying, but they also stand in contrast against the hopes we hold for the following day.

New and Noteworthy

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron / Silver and Gold by Sufjan Stevens / Star of Wonder by Mary Lee Wile / The Food and Feasts of Jesus: Inside the World of First-Century Fare, with Menus and Recipes by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

Epiphany: A Light to the World

A 16th-century depiction of the Epiphany from Germany. Via http://bit.ly/yeOf4J

A 16th-century depiction of the Epiphany from Germany. Via http://bit.ly/yeOf4J

Activist theologian Bill Wylie-Kellermann wrote that the Epiphany season "begins and ends in light. From the heavenly star to the radiant robes of transfiguration, Epiphany is about revelation, the kind of sudden brightness that lights up the landscape of a mind or a community or a whole social order. The light reveals, but not passively; it summons and sends."

In popular understanding, of course, Epiphany is about the visit of the Magi, "wise men" from the East bearing gifts for the newborn Christ child. Since these Gentile visitors come from foreign lands, their search for Jesus and their homage to him have stood as sign and symbol that Christ's salvation knows no boundaries. (The parallels with our age, with the potential of digital media to transcend all boundaries, begin to suggest themselves.)

The story of the Magi has a dark side as well, mostly ignored in Christendom's celebration of Epiphany. On their way to find the babe, the travelers pay a visit first to Herod's court, where they're told to report back to him the location of the newborn. Fortunately, the wise men practice direct civil disobedience to the royal command, and thus they and the holy family escape Herod's wrath. But the children of Bethlehem, the "holy innocents," suffer the tragic consequences of Herod's duplicity. The lessons about relating to authority (i.e., the need to be "wise as serpents") are loud and clear.

The Light of God's Glory

Have you ever sat and watched a moth drawn into a light bulb?

Have you ever sat and watched a moth drawn into a light bulb? The moth simply cannot help but be drawn to the bulb’s brilliance. The season of Epiphany celebrates a theme a little like this - only we are the moths and the bulb is God’s glory. Throughout Epiphany we encounter again and again the inexorable attraction of God. Whenever God’s glory is

A Light to the Nations

Just Who is Transformed?
Psalm 99; Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Jim Rice, editor of Sojourners magazine, has been a member of Sojourners editorial staff since 1989. He has also served as director of Sojourners Outreach Ministry and as coordinator of Sojourners Peace Ministry. He currently serves as a Research Fellow for the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.

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