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  • Seasons of the Spirit: The Light of Epiphany

    “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

    —Gospel of John 1:5

    “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

    —St. Francis of Assisi

    January 6 marks the beginning of our church season of Epiphany. “Epiphany” means “manifestation, disclosure, revelation.” Spiritually, this season invites us to let go of some of our old ways of being and allow “new light” to enter our lives. We are invited to explore new awareness, new consciousness, new perspectives that come to us as the light of Christmas grows with each passing day. Albert Einstein said, “No problem is solved by the consciousness that created it.” In Christmas, God has brought new light into our limited vision, that we might see more clearly the realm of God’s grace and justice which we are called to manifest in our lives and our communities. Our consciousness grows as the child grows, manifesting new hope.  

    Sometimes these revelations are welcome events. We are delighted by the prospects of God’s invitations to grace. At other times, the revelations are difficult. They show us that we need to change some of the ways to which we have grown accustomed. New light, new understanding, new life signals the end of old patterns of living, challenging us to go beyond our “comfort zones.” We may find ourselves clinging to old patterns long after they have finished their purpose in our lives, no longer giving us meaning nor offering more justice or peace in our lives. We are reminded that an “expiration date” on an old behavior may have long passed and as we continue using that pattern in our lives, it may actually endanger our health of body and spirit, causing a “soul-sickness” that usurps the energy for life itself.  

    A pastoral friend has said, “we serve the One whose kingdom is coming, one act of resistance after another.” Worldly kings are toppled from their thrones, and the idols of greed, indifference, self-centered aggrandizement, and lack of concern for all the suffering around us must fall away as the light of Love and Grace becomes clearer. The light reveals what had been hidden in our own unconscious refusal to see what our own behaviors and values have wrought.  

    Every year at this time I must sit with the words of T. S. Eliot as he uses the voice of one of the Kings to express this reality in his poem, “The Journey of the Magi”:

    “All this was a long time ago, I remember,
    And I would do it again, but set down this, set down this:
    Were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
    We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
    But had thought they were different: This Birth was
    Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
    We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
    But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation
    With an alien people clutching their gods.
    I would be glad of another death.”

    This Epiphany, may we understand how God hovers over us in our times of chaos or emptiness, ready to birth new possibilities in our lives and our worlds. But we must be willing to risk the letting go in order to be ready to hold on to the new world God is offering us. God is the One who brings us back to life when we have had to let go of all the illusory ways we thought we could save ourselves. God’s love is stronger than any of our fears or insecurities, showing us that every ending carries in it the possibility, the seeds, of a new beginning.    

    For me, a helpful image is this:  

    “Thousands of candles can be lit from the light of a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”  

    May we have the courage to “let our light shine”, and be willing to light another’s candle without fear of our own diminishment, secure in the knowledge that “the light has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it.” God bless us every one in this season of new Light.

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church of Winchester, MA (UCC) and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston, MA (UCC)