We’re unhanging the green in the sanctuary today (Tuesday) and tomorrow is Epiphany marking the end of the 12 days of Christmas. We didn’t coordinate these two things even though they are actually happening the exact way they are supposed to. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the universe taking care of us, maybe it’s happenstance, maybe it’s what happens if we’re willing to give up a little control and recognize that God is God and we are not. Either way what remains the same, whether we’re in pandemic or not, is that undecorating is a little bittersweet.
There were years at home where I liked the decorations on the tree so much, I simply threw a sheet over the tree and managed to carry it to the basement to be brought back up the next year. Collateral damage was usually only one or two ornaments which I decided I could handle given the alternative. It was in the day before trees came already strung with lights, and strings of Christmas lights were my personal nemesis. Finding the one light that had burned out that then meant the whole string wouldn’t work is cruel and unusual punishment for the highly impatient. Then there was the year out in Baldwin I decided to put lights up along my roof-line by myself. It was a ranch house with a gently sloping roof and everything was fine until the ladder fell to the ground. There were only 3 houses in that neighborhood at that time, so neighbors were not an option and I did not have a cell phone. Yes, it was well over 20 years ago. The temperature wasn’t too bad and it was mid-afternoon, and after awhile I started running down the list of possible solutions. It would not be a terribly long jump from the garage, but the driveway was not a preferred landing zone, nor was the rock of the landscaping between the garage and the front sidewalk and porch. I was weighing my options and evaluating the weakness of the ankle I had both fractured one summer after college and never saw about, and dislocated two years earlier saving a small child from an on-coming train, or maybe stepping out of the house down the steps to the garage rather awkwardly. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but the volunteer finance person at the church who, upon looking at me, at the ladder laying on the ground, and my newly strung Christmas lights, smiled and asked if I could use a hand. He winked and said it would remain between the two of us, it was my first year at Baldwin 1st and I didn’t really want the congregation to know my propensity for getting myself into unique situations quite yet. So thank you Steve H., you know who you are. I particularly enjoyed the lights on my house that year, and as I recall, he came and helped me take them down sometime in January.
Epiphany essentially means revelation/revealing. One might also say a “coming to light” of new understanding. For people of faith it’s the revealing/manifestation/coming to light of God come to earth in Jesus, Emmanuel, meaning God with us. What came to light the day of stringing Christmas lights on my house by myself, was the re-learning, again and again and again, that sometimes asking for help is reasonable, a good use of common sense, and a basic tenet of a faith based on the foundation of community. Jesus didn’t come as an adult lone ranger descending from the sky on a powerful stallion, he was born as an infant unable to provide anything for himself – food, shelter, or safety. It took his parents to receive word from the community of Herod’s fear and madness at wanting to kill Jesus before he had a chance to live into God’s vision of leadership. His parents ran with him to a “foreign” country where they stayed until they received word of Herod’s death and were able to return home. Without help, Jesus would not have survived. Perhaps that was part of the revelation God wanted to communicate from the beginning, a message that I believe has not changed for these 2,000 plus years.
Allow me to be brutally honest as we enter 2021 – we have miserably failed the test of community that 2020 has been. One of the interesting things about this virus, is that it’s never really been about our own lives and protecting only and primarily ourselves, it’s been about our willingness, or not, to protect those around us. Healthy folks in teens through 50’s, in a wide generalization, get the virus and with varying degrees of severity, mostly live through it. Folks older than that get it, with varying degrees of severity, and still mostly live through it but an expanded rate of death. And those even older, mostly live through it, but death rates increase moreso. And here is what we’ve done in a generalized communal fashion . . . well, my family got it, we all got well, so it’s all good. I mean, I’m sorry for those over 350,000 people who died and their families, I mean more than any of our wars or 9-11 or anything for which I want memorials built ; oh, and those who now have chronic heart and kidney and other issues, that’s too bad, but that’s not us, not my own family, so everything is fine. The Fauci’s of the world need to stop scaring everybody with their numbers and their warnings, because most of us are fine. Those mask orders are no longer needed, we got it and we’re fine, just fine, all fine – so the mask orders are now just infringing on our rights because my family and I are fine. Me, me, me and mine, mine, mine are all fine, fine fine so stop telling me about other people. Since my family and I had it and we survived and are fine those Dr.’s must be wrong that we can still carry it and give it to other people. Maybe those other people who haven’t had it should probably wear masks, but not my family and me, we’re fine . . . fine, fine, fine.
You know I would have gotten off the roof that day, by myself. And I likely would have been fine, it wasn’t that high a drop. Or maybe I would have broken an already weak ankle, or maybe the other one, or maybe both, or maybe even my back if I’d landed wrong, or an arm or both wrists maybe. But that would be on me, right? No one else to blame for exerting my freedoms. But someone was willing to help me, at no reward to them, just because they were kind. The church didn’t pay him for his official job as treasurer, nor to take care of a sometimes wrong-headed-strong-headed pastor, but he did both jobs without fanfare.
We’re entering the season of Epiphany, of God’s revelation of self through Jesus, may what comes to light for us in this New Year be an expanded willingness to be a part of a community that cares for one another. I’m going to continue to wear my shoes and shirt into restaurants when it’s safe to go back, and I’m going to continue to take off my shoes and not bring too many ounces of liquids into the gate area at the airport when I choose to return to flying. And I’m going to continue to wear a mask for as long as science tells us the virus is still being transmitted whether I have had it and survived or received both vaccinations, or not.
I believe in God’s grace. I believe in God’s call from the beginning of Jesus’ life that we need one another and are given care of one another. And I believe that we can do better, and that I can do better. It seems odd that we take down the lights as we’re entering the season of Epiphany, of the revelation of God’s light in Jesus. Perhaps the meaning in that is our realization that the light of Christ now shines through us, through those who claim faith in the one who lived among us and beside us in generous and grace-filled community. Happy Epiphany 2021!!!