Right now in the church, we’re in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany was actually observed by the early Christians before they celebrated the holiday of Christmas. (That is, Epiphany – which comes after Christmas – actually came before Christmas… Are you confused yet?) There’s been plenty of speculation about the dating of Christmas and Epiphany. One theory considers the influence of the winter solstice. “Pagans” had festivals to try and coax the sun back out – the Festival of the Sol Invictus (unconquered sun). Everyone loves a good party, right? So what better time to set as the date of Jesus’ birth – the Unconquered Son of God?
I think a lot about Epiphany… mostly because I hate these long, dreary winter days. I celebrate my own mental festival. Once the winter solstice has passed, each morning that I awaken in the dark, I begin the day reminding myself that the worst is over… it’s all uphill from here… every day will get just a little longer. Phew.
As an adult, I find this darkness annoying. As a child, I found the darkness scary. Like most young children, I imagine, I was afraid of the dark. I remember when I was little; I had a picture of Jesus, made out of this cardboard tri-fold. I don’t know what chemical or material was used to create the face of Jesus on that cardboard; but, if you held it close to a light and then turned off the light, it continued to glow in the dark for a while. It became a reassuring nightlight for me. As children, darkness creates fear…
But I’m convinced that, as adults, it works the other way around… our fear creates darkness in the world. We’ve become such a fearful culture. And it is a mindset that much of our media relishes. It seems as if most network news reports make the cultivation of fear their raison d’etre… and it is usually fear of some category of people; people who are “different” than me who, through their difference pose some horrible, nebulous threat to my well-being. Now, I’m not naïve; I know bad stuff happens in our world every day (we call it sin by the way and, in varying ways, we all engage in it). But I refuse to succumb to a fear that labels “the other” as my enemy.
A couple weeks ago at my church, we had three Muslim young adults, come and dialogue with us about their faith. Many who attended have continued to tell me how much they appreciated it. It gives me hope that, despite what the newscasters and politicians say, some of us would prefer knowledge and understanding over fear and ignorance.
True followers of Jesus bring light, not darkness, into the world. I wonder if they still make those glow-in-the dark, cardboard pictures of Jesus like I had as a child. Maybe we should all try to get one. It might go a long way in reminding us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Happy Epiphany.