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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The 12th day of Christmas: Epiphany and the Three Kings

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We'll walk in the light


The 12th day of Christmas. Of course had to clear Joe and his woman off the steps. Again. The temperature is rising. Creating a dangerous situation.  A filmy layer of water over the ice. I’m getting texts from people afraid to venture out. I know what that means.

Jeremy arrives and we do a quick run through of our music.

When John arrives, it’s time to begin.

We start with our old familiar Sanctuary. ( Lord prepare me….) I say that our old song continues to grow like musical weeds in the ecumenical garden. Jane’s congregation named itself Sanctuary. Alistair and West End picked it up. Then the his resident Jewish congregation Romemu took it on. And at our community Thanksgiving service, the new cantor at Rodeph laid it on like whipped cream topping  over Hinei ma tov uma naim.

Our opening song was the traditional We Three Kings and I tell my cousin story again. (….Orientar… http://west-parkpress.blogspot.com/2013/01/epiphanyel-dia-de-los-tres-reyes-magos.html ).

We begin our scripture readings with Isaiah 60: 1-6.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, 
          and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 
2   For darkness shall cover the earth, 
          and thick darkness the peoples; 
     but the LORD will arise upon you, 
          and his glory will appear over you. 
3   Nations shall come to your light, 
          and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4   Lift up your eyes and look around; 
          they all gather together, they come to you; 
     your sons shall come from far away, 
          and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 
5   Then you shall see and be radiant; 
          your heart shall thrill and rejoice, 
     because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, 
          the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 
6   A multitude of camels shall cover you, 
          the young camels of Midian and Ephah; 
          all those from Sheba shall come. 
     They shall bring gold and frankincense, 
          and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

We notice the contrast of darkness and light, the light shining through the darkness.  A song of restoration  on the edge of captivity and occupation. Nations coming from afar. A universal, not a local vision. Ah, and here are kings…and camels, a multitude of camels; and gifts of gold and frankincense…  (wait, no myrrh? We’ll have to come back to that…) Clearly Matthew was mining this prophetic passages for images for his birth narrative.

Then we read Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14 and we repeat responsively
All kings shall bow down before you; all nations shall do you service
as Jeremy begins to underscore my reading.

We don’t talk much about the Epistle reading, 3: 1-12, except to notice again the emphasis on Gentiles, the goyim, the others.

After Arcadia reads the gospel in Spanish, Matthew 2: 1-12, Jeremy and I do the traditional Puerto Rican carol, De tierra Lejana. (http://stagersound.com/WestPark/Service_1-5-14/SpanishSong.mp3 ). And people begin to join in. Finally, the gospel from Matthew, the old familiar story.

GOSPEL MATTHEW 2:1-12
Mary and Joseph greet the three kngs
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 
6   ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 
          are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 
     for from you shall come a ruler 
          who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

And we notice…no shepherds, no manger, no sheep or cattle. Just wise men. Not kings. And no mention of three.  And this time a new gift. Myrrh. The spice for burial. It’s always Matthew’s scheme to tell the whole story of Jesus in the birth narrative. So the presence of the cross is here, even at the beginning. Foreshadowing. And like the wise men, after we have been enlightened, we must return home by another road. You can’t go back the same way you came.

We talk about how the word epiphany came to mean more than the religious meaning. Like Anna says, like the cartoon light bulb. The moment when you get it. When the light comes on and on an instant it’s all clear. So what do people get here? That this ruler is different? Like Matthew set us up for in his genealogy? That this ruler must suffer, even to death? And that from here on out, the beloved community includes gentiles, outsiders, people of other religions? ( The wise men, probably Zoroastrians from Persia or maybe part of Iraq….)

But on this day, it has another meaning. Because our leaders will consider sending to our national church a call for the church to grant permission for its pastors to perform same gender marriages. We had been previously asked to endorse such an action where state civil law allows. But our friend Ray Bagnuolo, with whom I did a double same gender marriage right before Thanksgiving, has challenged us to forward an overture that calls for that right regardless of civil law. Ray argues theologically that we cannot allow civil law to determine our law. (Thank you, Ray). And I explain to our people that this will allow my colleagues, based on their own conscience, to do without fear of losing their ministry what West-Park and the sate of New York allows me to do all the time. If you’re gonna  go, go all the way. The congregation has a sense of pride in being able to step out first (thanks to the work of Lincoln Park Church in Chicago) and take a stand that pushes beyond the liberal qualified position. I am honored to be this church’s pastor.

                                                       Bruce Cockburn

We celebrate our Eucharist. Then Jeremy helps me do Early on one Christmas morn. I talk about how the song goes back to Freddie Half-Pint Jackson, of the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers. How Freddie also sang in the new Orleans bordellos and we now know was a pioneering female impersonator. (Thanks s to Bruce Cockburn for introducing u to Freddie.) And we finish with Andre leading us in Jesus the light if the world.As we sing, we share our Christmas candles one more time.
Andre led us

 On Zora Neale Hurston’s birthday, January 6, 2014, I recall this wonderful passage in Their eyes were watching God..

Folkses, de sun is goin’ down. De Sun-maker brings it up in de mornin’, and de Sun-maker sends it tuh bed at night. Us poor weak humans can’t do nothin’ tuh hurry it up nor to slow it down. All we can do, if we want any light after de settin’ or befo’ de risin’, is tuh make some light ourselves. So dat’s how come lamps was made. Dis evenin’ we’se all assembled heah tuh light uh lamp. Dis occasion is something for us all tuh remember tuh our dyin’ day. De first street lamp in uh colored town. Lift yo’ eyes and gaze on it. And when Ah touch de match tuh dat lamp-wick let de light penetrate inside of yuh, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Brother Davis, lead us in a word uh prayer. Ask uh blessin’ on dis town in uh most particular manner.”

While Davis chanted a traditional prayer-poem with his own variations, Joe mounted the box that had been placed for the purpose and opened the brazen door of the lamp. As the word Amen was said, he touched the lighted match to the wick, and Mrs. Bogle’s alto burst out in:

We’ll walk in de light, de beautiful lightCome where the dew drops of mercy shine bright
 Shine all around us by day and by night
 Jesus, the light of the world.

They, all of them, all of the people took it up and sung it over and over until it was wrung dry, and no further innovations of tone and tempo were conceivable. Then they hushed and ate barbecue.

Arcadia cut the rosca
And though we can’t share barbecue, we do share Rosca de reyes, brought to us by Arcadia. We wait to see who finds a baby Jesus in their bread. Whoever does is supposed to host a party on candelaria, the feast of the presentstion ofJesus in the temple 40 days after Christmas, the ne df Epiphany. A carnival event, in te tradition. And Jeremy and I find the babies.
Jeremy found a baby Jesus

If I have my new house by then, I promise to host a party.

All that’s left is for the Session to make our overtire request official. And to n surprise, they is exactly what they do.

After attending Helen Rosenthal’s inauguration as our new city council member and after joining Kate and Arcadia and Marsha spending 12th night serving dinner at the SPSA homeless shelter, I stop by the church once more. Rachel is there. She has nowhere to go. I try to persuade her to seek shelter. She will not. She drags her carts out into the
And I found one too
bitter cold night. And I wonder where she will be.

Twelfth day. And now frigid 12th night. The 12 days of Christmas are over


and to our friends in Russia...
Счастливого Рождества
Baby Jesus




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