Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

Celebrating Light

It is definitely on my "bucket list"
to celebrate Epiphany in Tarpon Springs, Florida one year.

Tarpon Springs is on the west coast of Florida,
on the Gulf of Mexico.
It is not a big place--less than 25,000 residents.
Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage
of Greek Americans of any other city in the United States.

Ten thousand people will descend upon 
the little town of Tarpon Springs, Florida this weekend.
Tarpon Springs also has a nickname:
Epiphany City.

This is why so many people will be in town this weekend.
They have a tradition--
also celebrated in Greece--
this will be Tarpon Springs' 107th celebration of Epiphany.

Yes, there is a liturgical side--
there will be multiple church services and many prayers, 
But truly, everything that happens this weekend is liturgy
especially to the Greek Orthodox Christians in Tarpon Springs.
But there is a very special event. The dive.

A priest will bless a small handmade white wooden cross
and then toss it into Spring Bayou,
one of the many bayous that connect into the Gulf at Tarpon Springs.
Then young people between the ages of 16 and 18
will dive into the water--
and yes, even water in Florida in January is COLD--
they will dive and try to recover the cross.

The one who finds the cross first
is said to receive a very special blessing from God.
A blessing that lasts their entire life.
Did you miss that part in Matthew’s gospel today
about diving into cold water to retrieve a small wooden cross?
Probably not.

You see, as Episcopalians,
from the Western Christian tradition,
we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany a little differently.
Epiphany is most familiar to us as a celebration of the magi--
“We three kings of Orient are...”
There they are on the banner that Betty Hayes
created for St. John’s...
“bearing gifts we traverse afar...”

But in the Eastern Christian tradition
the Feast of the Epiphany is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus.
Thus, you can see the connection
between diving into the waters in Tarpon Springs
and coming up with a cross.

Regardless of how we celebrate this feast day,
January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany,
this day signals the official end of the Christmas season.

The 12 days of Christmas are over.
No more partridges in pear trees,
or ladies dancing 
or drummers drumming.

What are we celebrating on this day?
We are celebrating a revelation.
Jesus is revealed to be not just for the Hebrew people--
but for all people.
The Magi were Gentiles, maybe even pagans.
But even they,
even they knew 
that this Jesus was no ordinary baby.

God has come down to live among us in human form.
There are three events that Christendom attaches to Epiphany--

The first is what we heard in Matthew’s gospel today--
the wise men follow a star and find a miracle.
A baby. The son of God.

The second event is the baptism of Jesus.
Again, and we Episcopalians will celebrate this event next week,
the divinity of Jesus is revealed to the world--
“This is my son...”

And the third event is the changing of the water into wine
at the wedding in Cana,
again showing us that Jesus is no ordinary fellow.
We are going to visit this event in two weeks.

You see today is the FEAST of the Epiphany
but we are about to enter a SEASON of Epiphany,
a season of revelation,
a season of light breaking through the darkness,
a season of coming up from the deep waters into the light.

Christmas is over. Even for us Episcopalians.
We are going to have to go back out into the world--
some of us already have--
back to work, back to school, back to “real life”--
and for some it feels like
going back into darkness--
deadlines and over-scheduled calendars,
complex family dynamics,
separations and loss.
Epiphany calls us to celebrate light--
not just one feast day of light,
but a season--four solid weeks plus a few days
of Epiphany.

Epiphany says, “Well, yes and no.”
Yes, Christmas is over 
but no, we are not plunged back into darkness.

Epiphany says, “There is more than meets the eye.”
Just look at what is being revealed through this baby, Jesus.

Epiphany says, “Follow me.”
The wise magi listened
and people have continued to listen for over 2000 years.

Epiphany says, “God may call us to journey to new places,
to discover new parts of the world.
new parts of ourselves.”

Epiphany says,” We may go home
But by a different way. 
Sometimes plans need to change.

Epiphany is full of surprises.

Epiphany offers us the opportunity to celebrate light. 
We need that.
We especially need that this year.
Hurricane Sandy. 
Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The illnesses and sorrows and deaths
that many of us have had to deal with in our own lives.

We need a time of year,
a liturgical season,
that reminds us
that the Light of the world is right here.
Right here.

We need Epiphany to remind us
to let our little lights shine.
It’s why we chose the hymn we will sing at communion
throughout the season of Epiphany.
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine...

T.S. Eliot describes it in his poem
begins that poem with these lines:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worse time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journy
The ways deep and the weather sharp...

You see, the magi risked the darkness
because they believed in the light,
the light of a star
led them to the light of the world.
I doubt it was an easy journey
but it was a journey they felt was worth taking.

Their kind and compassionate hearts
led them to choose not to return to Herod--
though there likely would have been great financial rewards,
plus prestige and power.
But these wise ones chose 
to go home by another way.

When T. S. Eliot wrote his poem THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI
he had just converted to Christianity.
Perhaps the poem reflects his own journey
as he moved more deeply into a relationship with God,
with the God he had long doubted even existed.

Light transforms the darkness.
Light transforms us.
Back to Tarpon Springs, Florida.
About ten years ago, the church there noticed
that the Epiphany dive was becoming more of an athletic event
than an opportunity for young people to reflect spiritually 
on baptism and the cross.

The leaders in the church did not want the dive to be about competition.
So now any young person who wants to dive
attends weekly classes
which include writing about their faith.
Attendance at the classes and at church each week
is mandatory. 
Families and the Church and the community 
care about these young people

These young people are asked to reflect 
on five ways they display their love for God each day.
They are asked to name three talents that God has given them 
and how they are using their gifts to serve--
to serve their family, their church, their community, their neighbors.

Epiphany is a good season for all of us to reflect 
on the ways God has brought light into our lives.

Look around.
Look around this church.
Look at all the light.

Look for the light in your life,
in the world.

Epiphany is a good season to reflect 
on what we are doing each day
to bring light into the lives of others.

God blesses each of us with light--
maybe it is only a little light--
but even a little light
        has the power to transform the darkness.

Epiphany calls us to dive deeply
      into the darkness
      in search of the light,
      the Light of the world.

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