Epiphany: Carrying the Light of Christ into the Darkness
By the Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering
Epiphany is a wonderful liturgical season that sometimes gets lost between the bookends of Christmas and Lent; however, I think Epiphany is a really important moment to engage with, particularly in relation to the practice of gratitude. There are some really lovely traditions associated with Epiphany, and thankfully, many are intended to be done at home, from king cake (either in the New Orleans or Mexican style), which can be shared at a party but best enjoyed at home this year, to chalking the doorway with an Epiphany blessing. My favorite is the tradition of candle lighting through Epiphany. I first learned of this tradition when I was working at a church in Colorado several decades ago. On Epiphany, a small group gathered for prayers and then each lit a candle from the Paschal candle to carry the light of Christ home with them. People brought glass lanterns and other assorted items to get the flame safely home. Then, they would light the candles in their house as a sign of Christ’s love and hope. I love the image of light spreading out into the darkness on Epiphany, and it is fitting since Epiphany (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) falls during a time when daylight feels fleeting, yet is increasing steadily with each passing day.
For me, Epiphany poses these questions: How are we bearing light into the darkness of our world? How are we carrying Christ into our communities and homes? Where can we be signs of hope, peace, and love for those who are hurting and feeling bleak? Pre-pandemic, this all felt pretty straightforward and simple. Often, bearing the light of Christ into the world (like the intrepid deacon chanting at the Easter Vigil) felt a tiny bit vulnerable but perhaps a bit systematic in approach. Now, bearing the light of Christ into the world feels more important than ever, but much less straightforward.
This Epiphany, the question for us is: How we can be signs of hope, love, and gratitude in our world in the midst of the pandemic? I sometimes think I am doing that when I put my mask on to run to do grocery pickup. Even though I don’t come anywhere close to six feet from others, I want them to see that as we chat, I care enough about them to put on my mask, because my mask protects them and their masks protect me. I think about it when we order dinner for pickup and consider which local place to support that week with our money. I am reminded to be a sign of light when listening to my friends who, upon realizing their burden is too heavy to bear alone, reach out and invite me along for their journey.
Being light in the world can be as small as the twinkling of a faraway star or as bright as a bonfire. Each time we bring light, the darkness is diminished and the light builds. This Epiphany, I want you to remember that you are the light of Christ, precious and needing protection like a candle in a lantern, but bold and strong and unstoppable if unleashed. We don’t need the flame of the Paschal candle to bring the light of Christ into the world. We already are those lights – those little signs of love, hope, joy, and gratitude sent out into the world to do good, to be good, and to remind the world that, in the words of Desmond Tutu, we were all meant for more than strife. So, as we welcome the Wise Men into our Nativities at home, may we also welcome the light of Christ into our hearts and bear it boldly and bravely each day; may it comfort us when we are lonely, hurting, or diminished in any way; and may it light our way toward home and help when we need it.