In the Lectionary

January 6, Epiphany (Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12)

Theology is not popularly understood to be a landscape where dreams are welcome.

My husband and I started our ministry with our congregation in summer 2016, but in those hot, sun-drenched early months we kept hearing the language of the Epiphany. The church’s primary matriarch, Suzy, told the church’s story as the story of keeping the light of Christ burning, visible to any wanderers or travelers seeking his presence, even if the size of the flame was modest. The small congregation was rich in faith but poor in budget, and the darkness of potential closure loomed. With minimal pastoral leadership, Suzy and other lay leaders kept the light of Christ aflame in the most unglamorous of ways: arriving early to clean the bathrooms, running upstairs to sing in the choir, running back downstairs to steep the chai tea spices before the service ended, mopping the floors and resetting the tables for another week of recovery group meetings. Many of the leaders came straight from working a night shift, painfully delaying sleep.

“We just had to keep the light going. We couldn’t let it go out on our watch,” Suzy said. Only God knows how many souls encountered Christ’s gracious light on those hard-pressed Sundays, but I stand as one witness: when we visited the church for the first time, a Sudanese elder placed her hand on my back as I knelt at the communion rail, and I experienced it as the hand of Christ. Two years later, I sat in her living room and told her this story, a pivotal part of my vocational discernment at the time. “You probably don’t remember,” I said. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I remember. I meant it as a blessing.” Christ’s light, manifest to the stranger. Small but mighty, hidden to the world in a run-down cinder block building.

The manifestation of Christ to the gentiles is celebrated throughout the season of Epiphany, but Matthew 2 is the dramatic and tone-setting lead. At first glance the Epiphany seems high and mighty, with grand images fit for plays and movies and Christmas cards: royal courts, wise men from the East, the capital’s chief priests and legal advisers, new stars on the move, secret delegations. Big, important people at the center of the world. But then, at the climax of the passage, when “they saw that the star had stopped” and “were overwhelmed with joy,” the colors are more muted and the stage setting becomes sparse.