Friday, January 5, 2018

Twelfth Night

Tonight is the Twelfth Night of Christmas, made famous by William Shakespeare in his romantic comedy of that title. (To be honest, there is an online debate about whether January 5 or 6 should be the twelfth night of Christmas, but those who hold to January 6th clearly have NO understanding of how liturgical calendars work. January 5 is the twelfth night. So there. If you want to argue about this, email me, but you'll lose.) So tonight is the last night of Christmas when we celebrate Jesus coming as light into the world (see John 1:5 among other references) and it's also Epiphany eve, the night before January 6 which is Epiphany when we mark the revelation of Jesus -- his "epiphany" -- to the world, specifically to the Magi (see Matthew 2).

So what to do on this illustrious night?

Build a bonfire, of course. Sip on an appropriate winter beverage and ponder what it means that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome / understood it (the Greek word in John 1:5 demands both senses of the word, by the way, which is ponder-worthy in itself).

And if you live on the shores of a gorgeous frozen lake, and if you currently have a beautiful white husky for a roommate, better yet. So tonight I built an enormous fire, undecorated and burned my Christmas tree, and enjoyed the light shining into the darkness, all the while savoring the light show overhead, the January stars proclaiming the glory of God (see Psalm 19) in a spectacular way as Orion climbed over the tree-covered hills to the east and the Northern Cross stood on the western horizon.

For those of you who, having been reminded of the Twelve Days of Christmas, have the carol stuck in your head, here's one more way to do Christmas, Day 12.

So tomorrow is Epiphany. The liturgical calendar was developed in a context where the church completely dominated the power structures of society -- so everything, including the passage of time, was governed by the church. The seasons of the liturgical calendar (which very few people understand anymore, and which our culture has walked completely away from, so don't hear me trying to reinstate the liturgical calendar) were a powerful way to proclaim Jesus Christ. That proclamation was structured into everything from the changing amounts of light in each day to seasons of planting, growth, and harvest, to the amount of food in your larder. All those things and many more were wrapped into that shared calendar of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, to tell the story of Jesus and proclaim his glory.

Tomorrow is Epiphany, marking the revelation of Jesus to the nations, to the entire human race, not just to the Jews. It's a powerful season, set at this point in the calendar to mark the return of light into the world after the darkness of the winter solstice. It's a time of clear, cold days and long, starry nights, of glory pouring into the world.

But the times have changed. People don't pay much attention, as a rule, to the liturgical calendar these days. And that's okay. But the church needs to figure out how to proclaim an unchanging Jesus Christ to a changing world. We stand in the gap between the two. Our Lord doesn't change, but our methods of proclaiming him might need to.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness neither overcomes nor understands it. So take heart this Epiphany. Jesus is still the light of the world, even in a world where everyone has a flashlight on their smartphone. That little bulb will do nothing to illuminate the darkness of the human heart, and that is the context in which we need to faithfully proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord these days.

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