I am attached to an Episcopal parish named Trinity. Like many Episcopal churches, we have occasionally found ourselves between priests. During one such period, our interim rector was my friend, the Reverend John Keith. Mr. Keith is the author of a revealing memoir called Complete Humanity in Jesus (Newsouth Books, 2009). He is also a fine preacher. One Sunday in the course of his sermon, he remarked that Epiphany--the season we entered on January 6--was his favorite season on the Church calendar. I had never heard anyone claim Epiphany before, and I was always inclined to love Advent most, so his remark surprised me a little.
Nowadays it doesn't surprise me a bit. I have joined my friend in favoring Epiphany, and it isn't because of Mardi Gras. No, I treasure Epiphany because it reminds me of three other treasures I received over a period of years, treasures delivered by three Magi named Lori, Jonathan, and Seth.
Lori's gift came first, and I am not exaggerating to say that I have been opening and re-opening this gift periodically for the last several decades. Lori was a seventh-grader when I met her. She was a student of mine when I had just landed a part-time teaching post a couple of counties south of here. Lori was a bug-eyed, freckle-faced, grinning annoyance with an amazing vocabulary and the ability read beautifully anything I put in front of her. Upper-classmen shooed her away, and her peers tolerated her until her constant, steady stream of chatter drove them to yell, "SHUT UP!" I really liked her.
Lori was in the habit of joining me for lunch most every day, as my classroom was empty during the time the other students gathered in the multi-purpose room to eat. One day as I sat alone, eating yogurt and putting lesson plans on the transparencies (it was 1975!), Lori marched in, plopped her heavy book bag down by the door, and stomped up to my desk. She was exasperated.
"Miss Susan!" she began. (These were well-mannered country children in this school. If they knew an adult well enough, they would use her first name but always prefaced with Miss or Ms.) "I don't understand why people always say that money won't buy the best things in life, because the best things in life are horses and chocolate doughnuts, and you can get both of those with money!" I had to agree. At that moment, wrestling with the certainty that my part-time job would end, I couldn't think of anything really much better than horses or chocolate doughnuts.
GIFT #1: I have known for some time now what the best things in life are.
Many years later, I was the proud mom of a first-grader. That child's name is Jonathan, and he is an adult now. I am still his proud mom, and he was the bearer of the second treasure. On a mundane Sunday morning, I was fixated on getting breakfast on the table, the baby dressed, and husband and kids out the door on time. I don't recall the season of the year, but I do recall the rain that fell in thick gray sheets and created a curtain of water from the roof that we'd all have to navigate on the way to the car. Jonathan sat looking out at the yard through the kitchen window. I put two pancakes on his plate. It was quiet in the house for a minute. Jonathan looked up at me, smiling with pleasure. "It's raining outside," he said, "and there's pancakes in our kitchen. This is a good day for us!"
GIFT #2: I can't speak for everyone, but I know exactly what constitutes a good day in this household.
My second-born, Seth, was the third of the Magi to show up. He is now a young adult who never misses the opportunity to confound. I don't worry about him, though, due to the fabulous treasure he delivered one morning when he was only four.
We are a Christian family, so for some reason that morning, the name of Jesus came up in conversation. I do not remember why. I do recall with crystal clarity what happened next: Seth looked up from his breakfast and said, "I know who Jesus is."
Now, I don't know what I expected. It could have been "He's the Baby in the manger," or "He died on the Cross,: or something else Seth would have learned in Sunday school. But Seth said, "Jesus jumps on the trampoline with me, and we sing.:"
I said wow.
For sure I didn't worry about Seth jumping on the trampoline anymore, and I suppose that at some level, I believe that Seth actually experienced the presence of Our Lord singing and playing with him. I wouldn't be the only one. A couple of weeks later, I told our rector (All Saints', Montgomery, AL) about the incident. This was a priest named Albert S. Newton, the author of Biblical Interleaves in Prose and Verse, a wonderful, meditative little book (Forward Movement Publications, 1987). When I told Mr. Newton about my son's remark, Bert didn't smile or even raise his eyebrows in surprise. He nodded seriously and said, "He probably does."
But I believe there is much, much more happening in Seth's statement. Jesus jumps on the trampoline with me--I am safe--and we sing--I am joyful. I believe this statement was God's message to me about who He is and about His nature. This is true for me every day, and it may be true for anyone who has sought prayerfully or angrily to discover who God might be. God is Whoever or Whatever keeps us safe and brings us joy.
GIFT #3: I know who God is.
May the light of Epiphany shine brightly!