EPIPHANY Isaiah 60:1-6: Matthew 2:1-12
At Midnight, on the cusp of Christmas Morning we celebrated the miracle that is God come to live with us, the Divine crossing over from heaven into our divided, broken, fallible and frenzied world. I quoted from an old song of Leonard Cohen’s: ‘Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.’
I was talking about how, in a world that seems to be beset by darkness from all sorts of sources, Christ comes as a light that spills through all the broken places, all the cracks, all the splinters to bring hope, to bring life, to bring fresh illumination of God’s way of equality and love. And then I concluded by suggesting that in all our flawed beauty, wounded and damaged as we are, we are charged by Jesus – a charge we take up on our baptism – to be the light flooding into the world.
Now we are celebrating Epiphany, which we know as the visit of the magi, and it feels as if there is something in Leonard Cohen’s words that might give us part of our vision for this year.
The reading we have just heard from Isaiah very much reinforces that theme of light: 1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Once again, we hear that God will be our source of light, but we are challenged to live as that light, that goodness, for others.
There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.
Cracks are places of ebb and flow. They are what make borders permeable, they provide opportunities for change.
Christmas and Epiphany are very much about borders and their breaching. What is birth but breaking through from the safe space of the womb into the risky, mucky, murky, unpredictable world of everyday living and growing? The birth of Christ is that, but infinitely magnified, as God smashes through the barriers that divide the logic of heaven from the randomness of creation. God born to a single mother crashes through the borders of respectability. The outcast shepherds visiting the Messiah slip through the prejudice of religious legalism.
Now here come the magi, stepping, literally, across the borders which divide countries, but also those which have held the Jewish people as separate, as the sole recipients of God’s message, God’s love, God’s care, God’s light. In the magi all nations are welcomed into God’s light.
Even their gifts remind us of borders: Myrrh, identified with anointing at death – death, the border state at the opposite end from birth dividing life in creation from life in heaven.
Frankincense, that burns as smoke which is neither solid nor air, and is a symbol of prayer, the channel of communication between created and Creator.
Gold: Kintsugi, which can be translated as golden joinery, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with powdered gold. It considers breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. If you look at a piece of pottery which has been treated this way you will see that the cracks in the china shine with gold, they leak light. The pot has gone from being something which contains – the china acting as a border to hold things in – to being a conduit for light, amorphous and beautiful in its brokenness.
As Ernest Hemingway wrote: ‘The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.’
Epiphany, of course was really on Friday, 6 January. It marks the end of Christmas, so is in itself a border between holiday and work time. Today is actually the feast of the Baptism of Christ. Which is a sign of the amorphous nature of borders. In two days we have jumped thirty years from an infant Christ to an adult about to start his ministry. And then we jump back again – the Christmas season ends at the start of February with the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and we are back to infancy. All rules, even time, slip and slide through borderlands.
Baptism is very much a sacrament of the borders. It marks the transition between the old life we are giving up, the sins and mistakes of our past which we wish to be washed clean from, and the new life of hope as one of God’s children. For Jesus it means crossing the line that takes him from his old life as Mary and Joseph’s son to his new life as God’s Son, his chosen one. As I said earlier when we choose to be baptised we make the decision to be borders ourselves, to become streams for God’s light to flow into the world.
And church is also about borders and their blurring. Stepping through the doorway means moving from one world into another – from busyness to quiet, from the concerns of the world to the concerns of God. The Celts called sacred sites ‘thin places’, the spaces where heaven and earth touch. Our worship is part of how we create that thinness, how we rip holes in the borders that keep us apart from God. In our services we stand to hear the Gospel being read. This is a reminder that Scripture, the Word of God, is God among us. Ours is a God who transcends all boundaries. When we read the Bible, in worship or in private, then what we are trying to do is not understand God, but to allow God to break in and open us up. When we pray it is the same, an unsealing of channels that allow us to hear God’s call.
Back to the magi and to Leonard Cohen: Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.’
‘Forget your perfect offering’. We are not perfect, as individuals, as churches, as communities. We are cracked, broken. We can hold onto that brokenness, be defined by it, let it rule us, stop us from risking, stop us from leaving our safe places. Or we can offer it up to God, allow God to pour gold into our flaws, re-shape us and build us anew into holy kintsugi.
Perhaps this year is a time for us to explore borders. They can be risky places – why else do we have border guards? They are places of transition, of change, of release and redirection. Perhaps this is the time to explore our calling to be the bridges over borders for others, to break through different borders ourselves, to find God in the borderlands, the thin places. But perhaps also God is asking us to confront our brokenness, and learn how, as disciples of Christ, we might offer him ourselves with all our foibles and faults and how we might let go of our control over ourselves allowing the gold of God’s love fill our damaged spaces.
Epiphany – a moment of sudden and striking insight. When the light breaks in. The magi strode out together and together were transformed by their journey, by the boundaries they crossed and by their encounter with the Christ child.
I hope that during this year, together, through encouragement, study, prayer, worship and action, we too will let God’s light break through into our lives and to the lives of others.