Saturday, January 06, 2007

Epiphany Thoughts

The tree comes out of the living room today. All the Christmas decorations are out of the sanctuary, narthex and courtyard. The Advent candles are gone in favor of the lone, tall Christ-candle. Epiphany is here. January 6th is the day Christians of all persuasions mark as Epiphany. The Armenian Orthodox church marks this as Christmas. It is celebrated as the arrival of the Magi with their gifts, or the baptism of Jesus, or, with some, the birth of Jesus. There are all sorts of arcane discussions about Julian and Gregorian calendars and extrapolated dates for events. But the really big news about Epiphany is that it is nowhere to be found at Target, Macy's, Cirucit City or Nordstroms. Epiphany is a non-event for the shopping world. And that's good news.
I have been reading and talking with a number of disillusioned (to the point of burned-out) Christian leaders. Some come from the emergent church and others from more traditional churches. They are disappointed with the way the church is conformed to and captured by culture. And today I began to wonder if the very toughest season of the year for Christian leaders is not Advent/Christmas?
This is the season when, sometimes, culture and church behave at their worst; with intense expectations about traditions and rituals, about things familiar and familial and tender and touching. About excessive spending, eating, decorating, practicing and performing. About too many parties and overstimulation. It's a tough season to sort out the simple and powerful Gospel of Jesus from the competing claims of culture.
Epiphany is far clearer. Epiphany is about the message radiating out. On the sanctuary steps at MCC we have a tableau of a carpet, sandals, tunic and staff. When Jesus sends the disciples out in mark 6:6, he tells them to "take nothing" except "a staff, one tunic and sandals". All they have is his authority over evil spirits and a partner in the journey....and that's enough.
It's a great reminder to me of what it is that I need in my luggage to do ministry: just a Bible. They rest are luxuries (like this laptop, a great office, library, sanctuary, paycheck, pension, insurance, etc.). I like all things things, but they are secondary, not primary to the Gospel.
The point I picked up in Mark 6 is the need to travel with the Gospel "lightly" making a minimal footprint and been flexible and portable. The emergent church is marked just by that minimalism and portability. Christmas clutter is not so minimal and portable, Epiphany is!


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