Epiphany, January 6, is one of the very oldest Christian festivals, observed from earliest times. The Greek roots of the word mean to “shine a light upon.” The imagery is that of Jesus, introducing that he was the “light of the world.” John in particular expands on the basic idea (see for example John 1:4-5). Even as we begin the civic New Year, it fits well with resolve to be enlightened in 2018 which we can hope is a goal for many.
One focus of the feast is the story of the Magi, the Wise Men, who, in harmony with the theme of light, follow a star to find the newly arrived Messiah. As it became increasingly clear to early Christians that the New Testament, unlike the Old, was a covenant for all peoples and not just the Jews, the saga of these Gentile seekers became important as a message that salvation and the Christian way of life was offered to all, without regard to human-imposed barriers of ethnicity or race.
In keeping with the theme of enlightenment, it is a good time to question how we can combat intellectual, spiritual and emotional darkness in the face of great forces pulling us away from light and love, but towards darkness, ignorance, divisiveness and fear. It is a good time to explain the purpose of these posts.
The goal is to re-orient our thinking away from the dualistic worldview prevalent among us. It is to remind us that Christian belief is very clear that the world has a unitary source. God is not only our creator but the creator of all that is. This includes both spiritual and physical features of the universe. It means emphasizing that anything regarded as “secular” is an illusion, because the earth is the Lord’s, all of it.
It is a simple concept. Everything and every creature is the Lord’s, even abstractions such as time. But the dualistic heresy permeates assumptions making it difficult even for church people to remember that there is no such thing as “secular,” there is only God’s world. While humans can, and do, pervert and distort that world, they cannot rob God of it, they can only blaspheme it. Since there is no time or space which is not God’s, nowhere is there room for anything “secular,” if the meaning is that it exists outside of God’s realm.
It is why many of us do not refer to ourselves or our lives as “religious.” The term implies a corresponding opposite of “secular.” But all activity is sacred, because it is all within God’s property, and should be offered to him. Crimes such as murder or robbery, for example, do not happen as “secular” activities. They happen on the Lord’s earth. That earth and its life is either offered to the Lord or it is perverted from its true purpose. The nature of sin, from the beginning in the Garden of Eden, is the attempt to rebel and distort life to serve selfish goals rather than a life of offering to God. Whether those goals are heinous crimes or simply living a life without orientation to our creator and owner, they all occur within the context of the Lord’s earth . St. Paul notes this in terms of slavery and freedom, that you “are slaves to the one whom you obey” (see Romans 6:15-23). There is no neutral ground, everyone is either in obedience to God or enslaved to some form or other of darkness.
To be enlightened, to have the fullest possible grasp on reality, is thus a way to serve God. It allows us to act more accurately in doing his will. It still requires good will to be effective, but being enlightened eliminates both well-intended and not so well-intended misguided efforts. Further, it is part of the mandate given us by Jesus that we are to shine with Gospel truth,so that all mankind might know the saving love of God. “You are the light of the world, “he says, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house”(Matthew 5:14-15).
If this post can help shine that light, it is also serving the Lord. It is designed to stress the Lord’s ownership of and presence in his earth, to the exclusion of any sector of it designated as “secular.”
Enlightenment is, sadly, not all that easy to come by in our nation, and getting harder. As journalistic and theological objectivity grow weaker, propaganda becomes both more prevalent and more sophisticated. As Christians in America, we must be vigilant in making sure we are informed by enlightened sources.
First among these, and most authoritative is Scripture. That might seem obvious. But it is possible to attend many churches where Scriptural reference is faint, and even more where only limited portions are mentioned. As with any literature, it is possible to distort by manipulative quotes. There is also a tendency to read Scripture with pre-determined conclusions in mind, rather than being enlightened by a full grasp of the message.
In the science of understanding Scripture as it was intended, there are those who presume modern man does not need Christian Tradition to interpret the ancient voices, but is superior in knowing everything. Yet the centuries of wisdom which have shone light on Scriptural truth forms its own internal criticism over time, and is has reached a level of enlightenment not to be ignored by seekers of truth.
It is also a role of this post to shine some light from abroad. Americans can live in a bubble where only our own concerns are mentioned. But peoples who only talk to themselves are left in the dark. Even to understand the current news, it is important to hear external sources. My homework includes getting news daily from CBC and Global News, Al-Jazeera, RT, NRK (Norway), Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden) El Clarin and other Argentinian journals, Irish Times and RTE, El Diario (Mexico) as well as from American sources. When done, I have noted many things which are not presented in American news at all and other things which are seen from a different perspective. I also try to at least sample church publications from various denominations and viewpoints. The idea is to mix this into a viewpoint achieving an enlightenment not fully available on the American scene. You also should regularly review news from elsewhere, as you are able. If your only exposure is Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, Time magazine or the latest tweet, you may suffer from intellectual malnutrition.
It is God’s truth which makes us free, to willingly serve our Lord, the truth of God’s love. Enlightenment is when all mankind understands that truth and acts upon it. It is why Epiphany, a festival to shine the bright light of truth, is so important.
There is one last part to the imagery. “Lighten up!” is our phrase to urge people to relax, cheer up, don’t be so burdened. It is an important piece of the Epiphany message for us. The country has its problems and in many ways is tearing itself apart, polarized, declining, manifestos of hate flourishing. It is increasing a picture of the world without God, really ugly.
But the world is not without God, we are not without God. Christians, rejoice and again I say rejoice. Lighten up, because God still loves us, the Messiah has come, the Resurrection is reality, the Holy Spirit rests upon us, the presence of Christ is real. There is a plan, God’s plan, full of love, light and joy. It is fulfilled, and our lives in time all march towards the light of eternal life. No dour, dire, confounding political, racial, gender, terrorist, tweeting crisis can separate us from the love of God. So, lighten up, enjoy, give thanks (“eucharist”). The earth is the Lord’s, and likewise the eternal heaven which awaits you.