As such, tomorrow, January 6th, we finish packing up our decorations and begin the season of Epiphany. Marked by the three magi being led by the star to come to the baby Jesus, the holiday commemorates Jesus’ physical revelation to the Gentiles (non-Jews). With this, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and throughout the season look at and consider how God the Son is revealed to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. By no means taking away from this, the season has over time bore additional meaning for me as I serve as a pastor. Epiphany, for me, is that space between two words. It could also be described as a semicolon pause between the two statements that form our faith: incarnation and passion. I have begun recently to think of the season of Epiphany as that rise from the waters to inhale a breath of fresh air as one swims (through the baptismal waters) from the birth of Jesus at Christmas to his suffering in Lent, and ultimately the death and resurrection of Christ in Good Friday and Easter. As a leader in the church, Epiphany can take on a unique feeling/meaning as one recuperates from the Christmas season and prepares/braces for the quickly approaching Lent and Holy Week. Therefore, as I wrap up Christmas and slowly step into Epiphany this year I look to the season as a much-needed time for rest and renewal.
Each of us needs rest and renewal. In the first creation narrative of Genesis, God—after six busy days of creating—takes the seventh to rest and reflect on the goodness and beauty of all that which God has made out of nothing. Following this thought, as Moses receives the Ten Commandments from the LORD atop Mount Sinai—the third (based on how you number them) God gives to the Israelite people is to “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). When questioned about it, Jesus, himself, affirms the sabbath as something—one could say a gift—made for humankind, instead of a restriction to be enforced (Mark 2:27-28). Scripture affirms the practice of sabbath: taking time to refrain from work and basking in the goodness and grace of God’s many blessings given to us. More than breaking a commandment, when we fail to keep sabbath we burn the candle that we are created to be, at both ends—intentionally destroying the good work God has made in us. Sabbath, quite simply, is God’s way of saying to us: “Take to rest and enjoy life the way I intended it for you.”
Though I try to practice sabbath weekly—as we all should—I many times fail miserably at setting apart this time for rest. Epiphany has, in a way, become a season of sabbath, a time of personal and professional rest and renewal for me. This does not mean laying low, withdrawing to a minimal amount of work, or refusing to address anything that happens during the next five weeks. Epiphany rest and renewal, for me, takes on a different, more engaged semblance. Instead of totaling refraining from everything, I will be placing a particular focus on certain occasions of education and engagement that renew my faith and reconnect me with those around me. While it may seem counter to rest and renewal, some of the activities I’ll be participating in for this time of sabbath are: diving more deeply into my study with our confirmands as we continue moving through Old Testament historical books (7th graders) and discussing the Apostles’ Creed (8th graders), coordinating our annual Epiphany Social Statement Forum where we open up the parsonage for soup and discussion on the ELCA’s 1991 statement on The Death Penalty, more attentively approaching daily opportunities for prayer, attending Divine Liturgy with my 8th graders at a nearby Antiochian Orthodox Church as we learn about this particular Christian denomination and our relationship as Lutherans with them, and managing my time more effectively to spend with family and do some personal reading. Some of these practices may or may not resonate with you when you think of sabbath rest and renewal. What activities do you practice in finding rest and renewal amidst the busyness of life or in response to a hectically draining season? Perhaps, consider adopting a practice over this season of Epiphany to recharge your batteries, renew your faith, and reconnect you with people and work you love. Open a book that has been gathering dust on the shelf for awhile, put a reminder in your phone to start and/or finish each day with a silent word of prayer to God, speak aloud and share with others one blessing in your daily life, engage a new or different form of serving others in your community. May you find rest and renewal in Jesus, the Incarnate Word, and be moved by the Spirit to share this with others.