Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany - January 6, 2016

Epiphany 2016 - 25th Life Profession Anniversary – Sr. Constance Joanna
Homilist: Bishop Linda Nicholls

Say the word, Epiphany, in a church context and everyone has memories, images and ideas that leap to mind
 from relief that Christmas is over and a new Year has begun,
 to memories of bath-robed children in ill-fitting crowns tripping down the aisle of a pageant,
 to paper stars and singing ‘We Three Kings’,
 to feeling a sense of delicious excitement that Jesus – as a babe – was recognized by these foreign strangers – a promise and sign of his reach to all the world. 
Yet these are very Western Christian memories. Epiphany was once the primary celebration of the incarnation before separating Christmas and Epiphany and the revelation of Christ at Epiphany was attached far more to the baptism of Jesus alongside the visit of the magi and the wedding at Cana as signs of Christ’s universal reach – a focus that remains in Eastern Christian traditions while we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord on the following Sunday. In Ireland (according to Wikipedia!) Epiphany is known the Women’s Christmas – when they rested and gathered to celebrate, hosted by others (I rather like that one!). In parts of Europe Epiphany incorporates an ice cold plunge into frigid waters – sometimes ducking in 3 times as a sign of the Trinity and washing of sins. Epiphany is known and remembered in many ways….. with the primary focus always the revelation of Christ.

But today I want to let light shine through another aspect of Epiphany as we celebrate it in the context of this 25th Anniversary of Sr. Connie’s life profession in this community. For in the stories of both Christmas and Epiphany there is the element of lives changed when the revelation of Christ is personally received in the midst of following one’s vocation. Lives that become a sign for others even when many pay no attention. For the birth of Jesus hardly caused a ripple for most people – did the owner of the manger even notice the new baby? If he did – was it more than just a ‘congratulations’ – and ‘When are you leaving?’. It is clear that no one else noticed – Herod had to summon his priests to see whether scripture could shed light on the magi’s question of where to find the king!

 Yet, shepherds in the fields – following their calling – their vocation – were curious enough; open enough; to wonder as they heard the angels and seek out the child. They were amazed, told their story & glorified God ….and were changed. The magi – astronomer/astrologers from the east – were following their calling – their vocation – when the event of the star called them to undertake a long, undoubtedly arduous journey into a foreign land. They arrive and offer expensive gifts – seeing in this child, in an obscure village, the King the star had indicated in their understanding of the skies. We love these stories – they are full of very human details but also of almost magical elements that indicate their place as symbolic of much more – a star that stops over a house; strangers travelling long journeys to greet a baby; rough shepherds hearing angels in a field. They tell us that the encounter with Christ is for everyone – and is found in the midst of our daily work and vocation and will change us – will call us to do things we never imagined and teach us to see the world through the eyes of God.

Epiphany may be the outward revelation of Christ to the world – as symbolized by the visit of the magi; the baptism in the Jordan; the wedding at Cana – but it is also the revelation to very specific people – shepherds, magi, you and me - and Connie. Through the gospel stories we see people who meet Jesus and are changed – Zaccheus; Samaritan Woman; the sick; Matthew; James & John & Peter & all the disciples….begin lifelong journeys that they could never have imagined. Some we only hear encountered Jesus once, but others are changed by their repeated engagement with him – especially the disciples.

For us too – it is not a once in a lifetime experience – but one that continually - daily - calls us in the midst of our vocation – sometimes into new ones – sometimes into more depth of one already chosen. In fact, Epiphany is the lifelong process of encountering and re-encountering Jesus and responding. 

Connie encountered Jesus in her family in another Christian tradition - then called as a teacher – sharing the joy of literature and growing in her faith through her life in the parish of the Episcopal Church and community. Her encounter with Christ however grew in her into a different kind of commitment – a call to live out her recognition of Him through life in this religious community – and within the community to living it out in different responsibilities for community life. Could she have imagine that her response would lead her from teaching English in a university to hospital administration, to stewardship development, to overseeing this community as Reverend Mother, to creating a space for young women to explore their vocation and encounter Christ afresh! Could she ever imagined all that?

Epiphany is the icon of the celebration of the continuous revelation of Jesus as Lord that invites our response as we grow and deepen in understanding. It is simply reflected in the final verse of the hymn – In the Bleak Midwinter….
 What shall I give him? Poor as I am.
 If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.
 If I were a wise man I would do my part….
but what I have I give him – Give my heart. 
Epiphany invites us to recall the revealing of Christ to the world in different ways – from the universal as seen in the visit of the magi to the very particular – our own hearts and vocation. We celebrate the ways in which Connie has responded to that revelation – in offering her life, her heart, her gifts of talents and leadership through the visible witness of religious community. This is not the end – but simply a moment to rest and give thanks! Before carrying on ….opening heart and mind to encounter Christ again – and be led to new adventures in this life of faith.

 Thanks be to God!