Theophany: Isaiah 6:1–8; 1 Corinthians 15:1–11; Luke 5:1–11

The reading from Isaiah reminds us that the world is a turbulent and unsettling place. Even Isaiah is not immune; his time was one of great national grief and uncertainty, and he retreats to the temple to try and recover a sense of perspective and peace of mind. Although the passage does not tell us whether he is alone or in the midst of the worshiping congregation, Isaiah discovers firsthand the wisdom of Annie Dillard’s counsel: when we go to church we should wear crash helmets, receive life preservers and be lashed to the pews in case God shows up.

Call and response: Jeremiah 1:4–10; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13; Luke 4:21–30

In his book Open Secrets, Richard Lischer describes his response to the challenges of his first congregational call. “My congregants were expected to welcome an inexperienced 28-year-old stranger into a community as tightly sealed as a jar of canned pickles. The church had decreed that henceforth I would be spiritual guide, public teacher, and beloved sage with a stroke of a wand. God—or the bishop—had just made me an expert in troubled marriages, alcoholism, teen sex, and farm subsidies.”

Good wine: Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11

On the darkest day of the year, the Incas tried to tie the sun down. The Zunis kept their fire indoors and let the trash pile up in their dwellings; Zoroastrians stayed up all night and read poetry. Wild women tore the god Dionysus to pieces and ate him. There were winter solstice rituals that involved pig snouts, ghosts, the river Nile turning into wine.

The light of Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

The ancient church fathers struggled with the physical implications of the incarnation—the mother’s womb, the birth and afterbirth. God gets a human body, orthodoxy has always proclaimed: a human body rife with bacteria, hormones and phlegm. Tertullian insists that God became fully human, though he recounts the details with some distaste. “Beginning with the birth itself,” he says, “the uncleanness of the generative elements within the womb, the filthy concretion of fluid and blood—the growth of the flesh for nine months long out of that very mire . . . the womb.”