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Inside the silence

Saturday, January 6, 2018

From 1 John 5
Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

The Amish around Arthur and Arcola close their stores today. A sign outside Beachey’s reminds us and adds, “Sorry for the inconvenience.” Because, as you know, most of don’t celebrate Epiphany with store-and-school-closing celebrations. What exactly is Epiphany, anyway? We’re don’t even agree on what day of the month it is: Roman Catholics celebrate Epiphany tomorrow, not today.

I see unsuspecting magi on tired camels, wending their way through killer traffic to the White House. Admitted to see the president, they ask where they might find the young king of the Jews. They are given an iPhone and instructions about using Google maps, and they head for Bethlehem, PA.

The star is up on a lonely mountain, but there’s a note, and the magi come downtown to find the babe, lying in a manger near the Historic Bethlehem Hotel, where there had been no room. They bring out their gifts for the king. They aren’t quite sure what to think, because the king is just a baby, and there are certainly no kingly trappings for him.

Thinking that perhaps they were followed by federal agents, they leave by the back door at midnight, and walk their camels through Monocracy Creek for awhile to erase the scent. They each feel changed by this experience, and without knowing quite why, they are more generous and more peaceful than they’ve ever been before.

James Joyce wrote about his own experience riding a camel after midnight, so to speak, through the back door into the rest of his life. The Eucharist mattered to him, but as a young man quivering with intelligence, he couldn’t grasp the theology or the logic behind it. Instead, he described a trans-substantiation of his own, “transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” He called this “epiphany.” The sun had set, but now it rose again. He could re-approach the Church and breathe in its incense:

“The radiant image of the eucharist united again in an instant his bitter and despairing thoughts, their cries arising unbroken in a hymn of thanksgiving.”

If I let it, what Joyce called the “whatness” of my own soul can burst out today. It can burst out any day, but why not on the day it is named after? Epiphany presses in on us all today. Stores are closed, schools are shuttered, and we are all asked to settle into silence until God’s presence blows us away.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

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