For a preacher, the challenge of Epiphany is that it comes every year.
The story unfolds as it always does: King Herod, the wise men from the
East, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By now, the pageant is
overplayed. The star of wonder has lost its awe. How, in this
over-handled text, can anything new break through?
Time is being stretched in the gospel narrative. With several
allusions to the wise men, we look forward to next Sunday’s celebration
of Epiphany. With the several allusions to the Exodus we also look back
to the Israelites held in bondage in Egypt. With the future, the
present and the past seemingly all at hand, how do we draw out for our
congregations a message from the manger?
Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over.
One of the books I pull from the shelf each Advent is A Sprig of Holly, a collection of Advent and Christmas columns written for the Christian Century a generation ago by Halford Luccock, who was both a great preacher and a great teacher of preaching.
The build-up to Christmas bombards our senses—the constant blinking
of Christmas lights, the pervasive wafting of pine-scented potpourri,
the drone of “sleigh-bells ringing.” No wonder we lose sight of what
we’re really looking for in Advent, the signs of the one who is to come.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a French Catholic, says that if you don’t show up early for mass at his parish in Paris, you might have to sit on folding chairs in a spillover space or even sit on the floor. There’s nothing unusual about his parish priest, although he does have Pope Francis’s spirit of generosity. Gobry’s parish is like other urban areas in France. Despite the country’s reputation for secularism, Gobry thinks the French church may be on the verge of a time of renewal (The Week, January 15).