A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Monday, January 30, 2012

John the Baptist: Sent from God

John the Baptist: Sent from God

Today's sermon leads us once again into very deep waters. The mystical implications of John 1:6-8 are almost as vast as "In the beginning", only they even more hard-hitting because they bring the Word home to us:

John 1:6-8
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
 7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

Once we get over being intimidated by the specialness of the two personalities involved, i.e., the "man sent from God", and "the Light" Itself, we must face the possibility that ALL of us have been sent "to bear witness of the Light, that all men might believe". In John the Baptist, we are given an example of the special relationship that should exist between Jesus and His true disciples. This is the direction today's sermon is taking--but before we get into that, I have a lot of interesting background material on John the Baptist to present.

From Wikipedia:

"John the Baptist (Hebrew: יוחנן המטביל, Yoḥanan ha-mmaṭbil, Arabic: يوحنا المعمدان‎ Yūhannā al-maʿmadān, Aramaic: Yoḥanan)(c. 6 BC – c. AD 30-36) was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River. Some scholars maintain that he was influenced by the Essenes, who were semi-ascetic, expected an apocalypse, and practiced rituals corresponding strongly with baptism, although there is no direct evidence to substantiate this. John is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Mandaeism.

[Sidebar: I didn't know what Mandaeism was, so I looked it up:
"Mandaeism or Mandaeanism (Modern Mandaic: מנדעיותא‎ Mandaʻiūtā, Arabic: مندائية‎ Mandā'iyyah, Persian: مندائیان Mandå'iyyån) is a Gnostic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist. They are sometimes identified with the Sabian religion, particularly in an Arabian context, but the Sabian religious community is extinct today."]

Most biblical scholars agree that John baptized Jesus at "Bethany beyond the Jordan," by wading into the water with Jesus from the eastern bank. John the Baptist is also mentioned by Jewish historian Josephus, in Aramaic Matthew, in Pseudo-Clementine, and in the Qur'an. Accounts of John in the New Testament appear compatible with the account in Josephus. There are no other historical accounts of John the Baptist from around the period of his lifetime.

John anticipated a messianic figure who would be greater than himself, and, in the New Testament, Jesus is the one whose coming John foretold. Christians commonly refer to John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since John announces Jesus's coming. John is also identified with the prophet Elijah. Some of Jesus's early followers had previously been followers of John."

From the New Advent website:

"The principal sources of information concerning the life and ministry of St. John the Baptist are the canonical Gospels. Of these St. Luke is the most complete, giving as he does the wonderful circumstances accompanying the birth of the Precursor and items on his ministry and death. St. Matthew's Gospel stands in close relation with that of St. Luke, as far as John's public ministry is concerned, but contains nothing in reference to his early life. From St. Mark, whose account of the Precursor's life is very meagre, no new detail can be gathered. Finally, the fourth Gospel has this special feature, that it gives the testimony of St. John after the Saviour's baptism. Besides the indications supplied by these writings, passing allusions occur in such passages as Acts 13:24;

"24 John first preaching, before his coming, the baptism of penance to all the people of Israel. 25 And when John was fulfilling his course, he said: I am not he whom you think me to be. But behold, there comes one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. 26 Men, brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you fear God: to you the word of this salvation is sent."

Acts 19:4-6;

"4 Then Paul said: John baptized the people with the baptism of penance saying: That they should believe in him, who was to come after him, that is to say, in Jesus. 5 Having heard these things, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them: and they spoke with tongues and prophesied."

[Notice that John's baptism of water was a mere precursor to the "Baptism of Fire" attending the Baptism in the name of Jesus, which led to speaking in tongues, and prophecy.]

"As to the date of the birth of John the Baptist, nothing can be said with certainty. The Gospel suggests that the Precursor was born about six months before Christ; but the year of Christ's nativity has not so far been ascertained. Nor is there anything certain about the season of Christ's birth, for it is well known that the assignment of the feast of Christmas to the twenty-fifth of December is not grounded on historical evidence, but is possibly suggested by merely astronomical considerations, also, perhaps, inferred from astronomico-theological reasonings. . .

Of John's early life St. Luke tell us only that "the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts, until the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Luke 1:80). Should we ask just when the Precursor went into the wilderness, an old tradition echoed by Paul Warnefried (Paul the Deacon), in the hymn, "Ut queant laxis", composed in honour of the saint, gives an answer hardly more definite than the statement of the Gospel: "Antra deserti teneris sub annis. . .petiit . . ."
(Thou, in Thy Childhood, to the Desert Caverns)

Other writers, however, thought they knew better. For instance, St. Peter of Alexandria believed St. John was taken into the desert to escape the wrath of Herod, who, if we may believe report, was impelled by fear of losing his kingdom to seek the life of the Precursor, just as he was, later on, to seek that of the new-born Saviour. It was added also that Herod on this account had Zachary put to death between the temple and the altar, because he had prophesied the coming of the Messias (Baron., "Annal. Apparat.", n. 53). These are worthless legends long since branded by St. Jerome as "apocryphorum somnia". (As near as I can figure out, this means "sleeping legends" possibly "old wives' tales".)

Passing, then, with St. Luke, over a period of some thirty years, we reach what may be considered the beginning of the public ministry of St. John. Up to this he had led in the desert the life of an anchorite;"
("In Christian terminology, men who have sought to triumph over the two unavoidable enemies of human salvation, the flesh and the devil, by depriving them of the assistance of their ally, the world.")

"now he comes forth to deliver his message to the world.

Luke 3:1-3
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. . .the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching",

clothed not in the soft garments of a courtier, but in those "of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins"; he looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking, and "his meat was locusts and wild honey"; his whole countenance, far from suggesting the idea of a reed shaken by the wind manifested undaunted constancy."

Matthew 11:7-10;

"7 And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went you out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind? 8 But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. 9 But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before your face, who shall prepare your way before you."

"A few incredulous scoffers feigned to be scandalized: "He hath a devil" (Matthew 11:18). Nevertheless, "Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan" (Matthew 3:5), drawn by his strong and winning personality, went out to him; the austerity of his life added immensely to the weight of his words; for the simple folk, he was truly a prophet). "Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2), such was the burden of his teaching. Men of all conditions flocked round him.

Pharisees and Sadducees were there; the latter attracted perhaps by curiosity and scepticism, the former expecting possibly a word of praise for their multitudinous customs and practices, and all, probably, more anxious to see which of the rival sects the new prophet would commend than to seek instruction.

But John laid bare their hypocrisy. Drawing his similes from the surrounding scenery, and even, after the Oriental fashion, making use of a play on words (abanimbanium), he lashed their pride with this well-deserved rebuke:

Matthew 3:7-10
"Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire".

It was clear something had to be done. The men of good will among the listeners asked: "What shall we do?" (Probably some were wealthy and, according to the custom of people in such circumstances, were clad in two tunics.

Luke 3:11

"And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner".

Some were publicans; on them he enjoined not to exact more than the rate of taxes fixed by law. To the soldiers (probably Jewish police officers) he recommended not to do violence to any man, nor falsely to denounce anyone, and to be content with their pay. In other words, he cautioned them against trusting in their national privileges, he did not countenance the tenets of any sect, nor did he advocate the forsaking of one's ordinary state of life, but faithfulness and honesty in the fulfillment of one's duties, and the humble confession of one's sins.

To confirm the good dispositions of his listeners, John baptized them in the Jordan, saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice. This feature of his ministry, more than anything else, attracted public attention to such an extent that he was surnamed "the Baptist" (i.e. Baptizer) even during his lifetime (by Christ, Matthew 11:11; by his own disciples, Luke 7:20; by Herod, Matthew 14:2; by Herodias, Matthew 14:3). Still his right to baptize was questioned by some; the Pharisees and the lawyers refused to comply with this ceremony, on the plea that baptism, as a preparation for the kingdom of God, was connected only with the Messias, Elias, and the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15."

"15 The Lord your God will raise up to you a prophet of your nation and of your brethren like unto me: him you shall hear:"

"John's reply was that he was Divinely "sent to baptize with water"

John 1:29-34

"29 The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him; and he says: Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said: After me there comes a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John gave testimony, saying: I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven; and he remained upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me: He upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizes with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw: and I gave testimony that this is the Son of God."

Later on, our Saviour bore testimony, when, in answer to the Pharisees trying to ensnare him, he implicitly declared that John's baptism was from heaven.

Mark 11:28-33
"28 And they say to him: By what authority do you these things? And who has given you this authority that you should do these things? 29 And Jesus answering, said to them: I will also ask you one word. And answer you me: and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from men? Answer me. 31 But they thought with themselves, saying: If we say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did you not believe him? 32 If we say, From men, we fear the people. For all men counted John that he was a prophet indeed. 33 And they answering, say to Jesus: We know not. And Jesus answering, says to them: Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Whilst baptizing, John, lest the people might think "that perhaps he might be the Christ" (Luke 3:15), did not fail to insist that his was only a forerunner's mission:

Luke 3:16-17
"I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire".

Whatever John may have meant by this baptism "with fire", he, at all events, in this declaration clearly defined his relation to the One to come."

[Sidebar: We heard about this a few minutes ago in the quotation from Acts.]

Thus ends the Wikipedia background material.

L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, has this to say in his article JOHN THE BAPTIST AND THE RITUAL OF BAPTISM:

"Our knowledge of the figure of John the Baptist is very limited. We have only those references to him in the Christian gospels, where he stands alongside of Jesus. We also have references to him in the Jewish historian, Josephus, who was writing toward the end of the first century. So John the Baptist is clearly a very important figure of the time. He was a renowned kind of eccentric, it appears, from the way that Josephus describes him. But he seems to have this quality of a kind of prophetic figure ... one who was calling for change. So he is usually thought of as being off in the desert wearing unusual clothes ... a kind of ascetic, almost. But what he is really is a critic of society, of worldliness, who seems to be calling for a change in religious life. But I think we have to think of John the Baptist primarily as one who was calling for a return to an intensely Jewish piety ... to follow the way of the Lord ... to make oneself pure ... to be right with God.

And why did he baptize people, and what was baptism?
John the Baptist, of course, is known for having practiced baptism. But then, so did lots of other people. We hear of other groups around this time, besides the Sadducees and the Pharisees and Essenes. There are the obscure little groups. We only know their names, but one of them is called Morning Dippers, or Hemero-Baptists, they're called. This seems to refer to a group that practiced self-washing ... ritual washing as an act of purification. We also know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Qumran community practiced ritual washing as an act of purification as well, to keep themselves pure before God. So, the idea of baptizing, or washing as a sign of purity seems to come, actually, out of the Temple practice itself.

And what's the significance in terms of the quest for Jesus?
In terms of the Jesus tradition, then, to have Jesus either submit to baptism, or himself baptize others, suggests that we are part of a culture that was looking toward Temple purity as its ideal of religious life. By Temple purity, I mean the notion that one should be pure ... should be washed ... should be cleansed before you can go to the Temple and offer your sacrifices or your worship to God. So one of the concerns of the Temple, you see, and of the Priests who ran it, was that proper purity regulations be followed scrupulously. In some cases, however, it seems that these purity regulations, though, were made also a practice of kind ... what we might call personal piety among some Jewish groups. This seems to be what's going on in the Essene group. And it may also be what's reflected in the story of John, who practices baptism. And it seems to be that he calls for baptism as a sign of rededication or repurification of life in a typically Jewish way before God."

This is from SDA Global:

"Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." John 13:20.

[Sidebar: On the subject of "being sent" (which we will take up again presently) notice that Jesus sees John as being sent to herald the coming of Jesus, and Jesus is sent as an access point between Man and God. This goes to show how we are all interconnected; all of us are sent to redeem each other in truth, just as John and Jesus were sent to us for our redemption. We were each "chosen" to complete a specific task.]

"Moses was chosen of God to be His spokesman. But he met many who opposed him. Miriam and Aaron were the first, then came Korah, Dathan and Abiram. In every confrontation God upheld His prophet."

I repeat: "In every confrontation God upheld His prophet."

Thus ends the review of background material on John the Baptist. Now, to return to the scripture for today, it was:

John 1:6-8
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
 7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

I get two major implications from this text, the "Moral Imperative" part, and the "Destiny" part.

I find there to be a moral imperative embedded in the concept of "being sent". This is big admission for me, because I find that most of what people identify as "moral" is merely custom or tradition, which may or may not have its roots in an a priori (self-evident) spiritual truth. What's worse is that people decide to condemn, deride, and shun me because they figure that anyone who violates their moral code makes me an infidel, a sinner, a danger. Never mind that there are a multitude of conflicting moral codes, not only all over the world, but even within a little parochial community like Glennallen, which is supposedly a committed Christian community. Nowhere else in the world is there such rampant back-stabbing and vicious gossip, as in a small town like this, where the stakes are so low. I do things every day that many people would call immoral, but my conscience is clear because I have a good idea of my purpose on this earth, and I make it a point never to do anything that stands between me and the reason God has put me here.

Being sent implies purpose, being sent for a purpose, such that: as we are sent for a purpose, we must therefore be OBLIGED to perform a certain task, or fulfill some extended program of accomplishment; our very existence proclaims the necessity of obedience to a higher purpose, a higher mind, a mind we cannot grasp with our puny brains and must therefore accept through faith. Thus, being sent brings with it the added baggage of LAW; moral law gets its impetus from fundamental motivations born of spiritual responsibility which, in its variegated human manifestation, may be different for every human being on Earth. We are all sent into the world, like John the Baptist, with a divine commission; some of us get small tasks, some of us get big tasks-- the magnitude of the task doesn't matter--only how faithful you have been in its execution.

As an example of the destiny aspect of being sent--the "this has-to-have-been planned" part-- I thought it would be fun to recount the events that led me to Alaska. I have no doubt that I have been called to this place; there were just too many co-incidental synchronicities piled up on top of each other to land me here, for me to think for one second that it was an accident.

In the spring of 2004, Louise had just returned from a long trip to Alaska. All this interest in Alaska motivated her to do more research into the possibilities of my involvement with that state. She knew that many many villages in the Alaska bush were cut off from any kind of big city culture, and that there were a certain number of grants available to fund plane trips by itinerant artists into that back woods to teach music, art, writing, etc. Consequently, one night she did an Internet search for "itinerant music teacher" . She came up with a hit from the Copper River School District advertising for, of all things, an itinerant music teacher.

Now, one of the professional possibilities that I had considered closed to me, because of my inability to get any kind of institutional employment, was the idea of teaching music in the public schools. The fact is that I had had a job in a San Jose school district for a semester, when we lived in Santa Cruz; it was an emergency situation, and I had been hired as a " consultant". I was a huge hit, and had actually begun the process of getting my teaching credential, when I learned that the school district had had its budget cut by $1,000,000, and my music program had evaporated into thin air.

I also once applied for a job in our town in Idaho, but the small-town gossip had prepared my way, and I had no chance. Therefore the thought of wasting my time going to college for another two years to get a teaching credential, so that I could be disappointed once again by the news that no one would hire me, I never considered this to be a real possibility. Imagine my surprise when the Copper River School District not only expressed an interest in me, knew of a way I could come on board right away without a teaching credential, but were willing to pay half my air fare to come up and interview for the job. I told them right up front about my Asperger's condition, and not to waste my time and money if they had a problem with it; the superintendent told me that not only was it not a problem, but they would be in violation of the law to hold such a disability against me in the hiring process. This phone conversation took place on Tuesday; by Friday I had the job, and everything was changed, and events were set in motion which would roll over us like a storm.

Several things indicated that fate was on our side in this move to Alaska. For one, that summer I was going to lose fully half of my students. This kind of thing had been happening every few years for as long as I could remember; since many of my students were the children of graduate students, every once in awhile they all graduated and left town at the same time, like a wave. They were generally replaced by new recruits, and my schedule again filled up--but this time it was even more severe than usual, and I was worried what the fall held in store for me. The move to Alaska alleviated that problem. There were still plenty of people who were sorry to see me go, but not near enough to keep me, if there were a new opportunity in store. The fact is that my take-home pay from the school district in Glennallen was going to be slightly less than what I was making freelance in Idaho; but the fact that my teacher's salary included income-tax taken out, and very cheap medical benefits, more than evened the scale. Anyway, it was Alaska at last.

I could go on with many details about how things just fell into place, (and trust me there were a lot more)--about how I was literally propelled, against my will, or at least without my will, into a place, a world that was strange and difficult, a complete surprise (epiphany); I say, I could go on with that, but I want to get into the moral imperative that all those synchronicities necessitate.

I was sent to do a certain thing--well, duh, to teach music to Alaskans--and I have to stay here and do that thing no matter what my personal preferences might be. I couldn't leave if I wanted to, I don't have the money nor the youthful energy to start over again, so instead of thinking of Alaska as a prison from which there is no escape, I must think of it as HOME AT LAST. Thus, my divine commission is fulfilled with joy and thanksgiving.

Are we able to purify others with our inner light? Are we sent to bear witness to the light, or to bear the light? Is not bearing witness to the light, in fact speaking the word that brings the light with it? We all need to examine our lives to make sure we are following the path that was laid out for us before we were born. Only by alleging our petty human objectives with the larger cosmic picture can we truly be happy and free.

Sometimes, when I look back on the trials I have endured, and the sacrifices I have made, I am tempted to compliment myself on my strength of character, my courage, my purity of heart; then I remember that I am merely doing the Father's Will, and deserve no credit for merely providing a channel through which His Will may be manifested in the world. I chose, a long time ago, never to choose, but to be led. From this I can claim no virtue, but only gratitude for the wave upon which I ride effortlessly into Eternity.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for all the links in the chain of causality that are the natural consequences of being sent. Keep us on the path you have dispensed in Your wisdom, and remind us that our purpose here is not done until You say so. We may sometimes cry to let this cup pass from us, but, as in all things, let Thy Will be done. Amen

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In the Beginning II

In the Beginning II

Last Sunday we took our first plunge into the liquid depths of John, Beloved of Christ Jesus. Unfortunately, (for you), what started out as a twenty-minute sermon stretched effortlessly into forty minutes without even breathing hard, (for me), and I still haven't said all I want to say about John 1:1-2:

"1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
 2The same was in the beginning with God."

Last week we contemplated the miracle of spirit transduced into flesh, and pondered some of the implications relevant to our own material existence--our material existence as it was necessarily affected by the incarnation of God in the body of Jesus.

Today we take a different tack, and consider an issue resonantly brought up in the great T.S. Eliot poem, Ash Wednesday: the issue of redemption. In the course of my Sunday presentations, I have featured many classic sermons and lectures, including pieces by Martin Luther, George MacDonald, Rudolf Steiner, C.S. Lewis, et al.; but this is the first time I have suggested that a poem written by a (technically) secular poet should constitute an appropriate subject for a worship service.

The fact is that, as I have said before, beautiful artworks convey spiritual energy into the physical as effectively as any prayer; an artwork is in fact a prayer, made by the artist, to bring his audience closer to something essentially true. Whether the artist attaches religious designations to the elements of the artwork is really neither here nor there, and is, moreover, secondary to the main point. The fact is that a contemplation of the infinite, in any form, is as good a prayer as can be prayed. The poet, in particular, is just one step away from the philosopher, and the philosopher is just one step away from the priest. A poem composed by such a priest-poet is sure to bottom line at some significant point that can be labeled as frankly religious.

His poem Ash Wednesday came at a significant time in T.S. Eliot's spiritual life; it was a written at a time, (and commemorates a time), when he was just coming out of a period of agnosticism and doubt, into a new personal era of faith and belief. It is not only a beautiful work of art, it is a deeply intimate spiritual testimony.

[Sidebar from Wikipedia:
"Conversion to Anglicanism and British citizenship
On June 29, 1927 Eliot converted to Anglicanism from Unitarianism, and in November that year he took British citizenship. He became a warden of his parish church, Saint Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London, and a life member of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He specifically identified as Anglo-Catholic, proclaiming himself "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic [sic] in religion." About thirty years later Eliot commented on his religious views that he combined "a Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage, and a Puritanical temperament.""

Thus, this particular Eliot poem is not secular at all--it is famous for not being secular--it is referred to, (as we shall see below), as Eliot's "conversion poem." The work impresses the reader with the significance of the Word by painting a bleak picture of what life is like without it. Let's take it that far for now.

Here is the article from Wikipedia:

" Ash Wednesday (poem)
Ash Wednesday is the first long poem written by T. S. Eliot after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism. Published in 1930, it deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith acquires it. Sometimes referred to as Eliot's "conversion poem," it is richly but ambiguously allusive, and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation. It is a poem of penitence, near despair, and hope. Its title derives from the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, during which a sign of the cross is made on the forehead of the penitent, a reminder of transitoriness and sinfulness.

Ash Wednesday,” Eliot’s first major poem written after his conversion to Christianity, focuses more on struggle and doubt than on belief; it straddles the line between secular and Christian poetry but opens the door for his later “Christian” poems. He shows the need for God, his lack of hope for everything in the world, and how “unworthy” we are when we come to God in our natural sinful state. Eliot does not doubt God, rather his own ability to respond to Him.

Many critics were particularly enthusiastic about it. Edwin Muir maintained that it is one of the most moving poems Eliot wrote, and perhaps the "most perfect," though it was not well-received by everyone. The poem's groundwork of orthodox Christianity discomfited many of the more secular literati.

T. S. Eliot: Ash Wednesday, Part Five:
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;"

[Sidebar: I hate to interrupt so soon, but I must clarify a crucial point: these first few words are really the reason we are hearing this sermon, because they present the central dichotomy of the poem, which is this: we know that the Word is out there, even if it is an inarticulate potential; we know that the Word is created for the world, that the Word creates the world; but guilt, born of an acute awareness of our depraved character, our flesh, sullies the experience of the Word with anxiety and despair. The poem is about how T.S. eliot works through this problem. Let's start again:

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;

And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people."

[Sidebar: notice how the reference to apple seeds brings us back to the Garden of Eden, Paradise lost; what a powerful image--to imagine Eve spitting out the seeds of the Tree of Knowledge that have withered in her very mouth. It is as if the poet is sitting on a fence and watching all this; the poet is enacting a ceremonial review of the Fall, meanwhile tucked into some in-between place which separates expression from acceptance. Or is it transitioning (or better, transducing) between expression and acceptance?]

Back to Wikipedia:

"A Reading of Part Five of
Ash Wednesday
Sencourt suggests that "it is only the total effect of Ash-Wednesday which is capable of systematic exposition." If this is indeed the case, then what Kirk believes to be the essential thrust of the poem proves helpful:

"Only by experiencing afresh the reality that once brought forth the old symbols can modern man regain faith, 'the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.'" Just that expression anew of transcendent experience was Eliot's achievement in Ash-Wednesday."

Indeed Ash-Wednesday turned many in its generation toward Christianity (and away from communism) since the poem "made it possible to believe in Christian insights—and yet to remain within the pale of modern intellectuality." Eliot himself was the paragon of such a posture.

A man of genuine intellectual power and broad learning might believe in dogma, it was clear; more important, he might experience something of the transcendent, and might express that experience in a mingling of old symbols and new. The intellectual public, or some part of that public, was moved."

[Sidebar: This sentence is of particular relevance in my case. As you will remember, I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, the worst possible environment in which a true disciple of Jesus could find himself. Everything was Hellfire, and "Because the Bible says so," translation: "Because I say so," translation: "Because my mother says so." The living personality of Jesus never cast a shadow on my parents' doorstep, only the dogma that was come down from several generations of midwestern farmers, whose theology was expressed in language and logic that was JUST TOO STUPID for me. The idea in the preceding paragraph that T.S. Eliot "might experience something of the transcendent, and might express that experience in a mingling of old symbols and new," is the sentence I needed to read when I was 12. The tragedy of my youth is that I did not even suspect of the possibility of an INTELLIGENT CHRISTIANITY until I was 25. The idea that, "The intellectual public, or some part of that public, was moved," is of tremendous comfort to me--it means that somewhere, somehow MY work may some day be appreciated for its prayerful resonance.]

"In the fifth section we have the following basic outline.

1. The introductory stanza has behind it the gospel of John 1: 1-14 and Lancelot Andrewes' nativity sermon of 1611. Its substance is at the core of the poem: "it is an assertion of the truth of Christ as the Word, an assertion that this is the Reality even if one has not brought oneself to acknowledge it fully."

"And the light shone in the darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word."

[Sidebar: remember from last week, we read a section of the referred to sermon of 1611. We focussed on the section in which Andrewes makes clear that FLESH is the lowest, the most disgustingly inadequate form in existence, and how could the Christ even bear to go near it? Here is the section:

"Besides, from the flesh, as from Eve, came the beginning of transgression, longing after the forbidden fruit, refused the Word quite; so, of all other, least likely to be taken. The Word not refusing it, the rest have good hope.

But there is a kind of necessity to use the term flesh. If He had said man, man might be taken for a person. He took no person, but our nature He took. Flesh is no person but nature only, and so best expresseth it. And if soul, it might have been taken, as if He took not the flesh but mediante anima (by means of the soul); but so He did not but as immediately and as soon the flesh as the soul, in one instant both.

Yet one more. It will not be amiss to tell you; the word that is Hebrew for flesh the same is also Hebrew for good tidings - as we call it, the Gospel; sure, not without the Holy Spirit so dispensing it. There could be no other meaning but that some incarnation, or making flesh, should be generally good news for the whole world.  To let us know this good tidings is come to pass He tells us, the Word is now become flesh."

These words come very close to a summation of the entire Ash Wednesday poem: flesh makes the apprehension of the Word difficult, but Jesus's descent into the body offers us the hope of redemption in His blood.

There is another side note I wanted to stick in here about the bargaining aspect of some of the Medieval and Renaissance religious texts. You will notice how Andrewes paints a grim view of the flesh, representing it as the "beginning of transgression", and then, through its acceptance through Jesus Christ, it becomes the "good news". Well there are similar passages elsewhere. Here is a section from the text to the Requiem mass:

"Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of thy way:
lest thou lose me in that day.

Faint and weary, thou hast sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me.
shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Seeking me, thou sat tired:
thou redeemed [me] having suffered the Cross:
let not so much hardship be lost."

In other words, "Jesus thank God that I'm such a sinner, because without me You'd have nobody to save, and then what good would You be?"]

Back to Ash Wednesday:

"2. In the next stanza, Eliot asks:

"Where shall the word be found, where will the word Resound?"

The answer is seemingly nowhere:

"Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land."

[Sidebar: the question of silence is a very fetching one. You may remember in The Screwtape Letters Screwtape describes the acoustic nature of Hell as being dominated by one vast noise. Indeed, if the tohu va-vohu (the whirling madness of chaos) were to be presented in a movie, I'm sure the sound track would consist of an endless swirling rush of white noise. Indeed, the Word, created by God "in the beginning" came out of chaos, and brought its own silence with it.]

Back to Ash Wednesday:

"3. For those who reject the word out right, "for those who walk in darkness" there is neither a place of grace nor a time to rejoice; life is still a waste land.

"For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice.""

Who would deny the voice, who would make himself deaf to the Word? Who would choose noise over silence, darkness over daylight? Only the ego-driven self, the false face that cannot face the real face. For the petty ego there is no time for anything but the looking glass in which is reflected only the confusion of chaos.

So, how, you ask, is this a poem about redemption? Well, as usual with T.S. Eliot, you have to wait some time for the clouds to lift--in this case, all the way until the last line of the poem. But the sense of the possibility of redemption, of redemption waiting just round the corner, like an epiphany waiting to transpire--this sense of impending redemption runs in and out of every tired line in the entire poem. For instance, take the last lines of the Fifth section:

"The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice."

These are not just doom and gloom words, they suggest the POSSIBILITY of rejoicing by those who DO NOT DENY the voice. The voice is mute in the poem, but stands ready to speak just on the fringes of the poem. Furthermore, the final ending is more than a prayer, it is a supplication--a supplication based on the faith that prayer will be answered and the poet will be delivered:

"Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

Even among these rocks,

Our peace in His will

And even among these rocks

Sister, mother

And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,

Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee."

"And let my cry come unto thee." That sounds like faith to me. Faith in the ability of the Word made flesh to relieve the cruel barrenness of the world, and to come together with the voice that gave the first cry--the cry that created the world.

But let's go back to some of the earlier imagery that is of interest:

"And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word."

The idea of whirling is associated with deep waters, the vortex, the face of the deep. In Jewish tradition, the term tohu va-vohu refers to the featureless desert of nothingness, all undifferentiated swirling chaos; indeed, the chaos of entropy can only be described as a whirling confusion. It is a picture of the universe unbanged, as in Genesis 1:1:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Now, to my way of imagining, the first change that the Word wrought on the face of the deep, that undifferentiated waste and void, was DIRECTION--movement toward some point outside the mind of God. To be separate from God, yet part of God, was the mystery we contemplated last week, and it still is a major preoccupation when we consider the ebb and flow of many waters circulating around the silent word--the word, as yet unspoken. The shone in the darkness that, just a moment before was a black silent potential for being. Thus, as I hinted at above, the saving grace of the creator is waiting at the edges of the poem, always on the verge of becoming. Does this tell us anything about our own spiritual life?

In the following verses, Eliot underlines the desperation of the faith not yet delivered into the world by epiphanic experience:

"If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;"

In particular, these words seem to cry out:

John 1:3

"All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made."

The word within the world and for the world, has indeed MADE the world--so the mere fact of our worldly existence implies the word's existence--and with its existence the hope that it may deliver us back into the infinite out of which this finitude has sprung.

Here at the end of the first section, T.S. Eliot flaunts his atheism, and blares his excuses for it:

"Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice"

The surprising turn at the end, "I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice" almost makes the same statement I made earlier:

"The word within the world and for the world, has indeed MADE the world--so the mere fact of our worldly existence implies the word's existence--and with its existence the hope that it may deliver us by giving back the infinite out of which this finitude has sprung."

The protagonist of the poem sees that the seed for his redemption is contained in the logic structure of the Word--the Word cannot exist without us, and we cannot exist without the word. Thus, as he goes on, struggling with ego, and the baggage the Word drags into his verbal consciousness, he prays once again for mercy:

"And pray to God to have mercy upon us

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again

Let these words answer

For what is done, not to be done again

May the judgement not be too heavy upon us"

We see from these last two lines,

"For what is done, not to be done again

May the judgement not be too heavy upon us",

that redemption is not free, that we have commit to a life wherein we reject sinful acts, meanwhile admitting that we CANNOT avoid sin, we can only beg forgiveness for it.

Here is a reminder from last week, a quote taken from Joseph Campbell's Masks of Eternity:

"And when a fortunate rhythm has been struck by the artist, you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest. That is the epiphany. And that is what might in religious terms be thought of as the all-informing Christ principle coming through."

Perhaps I go too far, but it seems to me that there is a not-so-obvious reason for the intensity of the proclaimed suffering and despair that pervades the T.S. Eliot poem: with the Christ Consciousness lurking in the wings, always hinting that there is balm in Gilead, maybe the purpose of these cries of supplication is to enhance the desperate tone of the supplications, thereby super-charging the reaching-out-to-God dynamic in the poem. This intensification of expression may be thought of as an AESTHETIC effect, that is, MADE UP, in the sense of a kind of hyper-symbolic resonance. The creation of ART out of a prayer to God, transforms the often informal aspect of prayer into CEREMONY. This is significant. If you take into account these words from above,

"Eliot does not doubt God, rather his own ability to respond to Him."

it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Ash Wednesday poem is a CEREMONY OF SUPPLICATION, whose reason for being is to prepare the supplicant for the coming of the Word.

You may recall my very first sermon as Director of Worship at Basin Bible Church suggested that ceremony and formality did much to dignify the religious rites, imbuing them with the associated radiance of inherited tradition. Most religious practices involve ceremonies that enact the cosmic mysteries for our contemplation in the outer world. Furthermore, many traditional practices for the solemnization of holy days, include the idea of fasting, and the larger issue of sacrifice. Clearly, T.S. Eliot is focusing on the sacrifice, the more to enjoy the descent of spirit into the heart of the man who had faith enough to stick it out through the bad times, through the waste time of indecision and doubt. The barren times made fruitless and empty by the tyranny of ego that forbids and forbids and forbids the surrender to the enfolding arms of faith affirmed.

When we imagine the Word made flesh, we have to include, in our considerations, every material manifestation of Reason, Discourse, Mind, etc., that we can think of. Then we must formalize our thinking and solemnize it with ceremony. The ceremony of supplication must go hand in hand with the feeling of supplication. Therefore, the dark images and forlorn utterances of the protagonist of Ash Wednesday find their reason for being in the depth of his need for redemption, his thirst for living water.

Last week we mentioned that the Word is the force that holds the universe together. Clearly, this is one blessing the protagonist of Ash Wednesday is praying for. There is a poem by Yeats I would like to read that bears on the topic at hand:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Notice how this poem reiterates many of the images we have discussed already today: the center that cannot hold (the tohu-va-vohu), the desert, the ceremony of innocence, and the slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. I think that these two poems taken together make a potent statement about the necessity of spirit, the presence of spirit, the evocation of spirit, and the ultimate redemption through spirit. These are all things we need to have circulating in our consciousnesses, as we labor to bear our own God-created spirit into the world of men.

Let us pray: Jesus hear our prayer. Deliver us from the darkness that clouds every virtue that is not sanctified by Divine Intelligence. Enlighten our minds with heaven's rays, and lead us in the paths of righteousness for your NAME's sake. Let us name you in every thought and deed, and let us hear the Word with ever-opening ears. Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In the Beginning I

In the Beginning I

It is with amazement that I look back on the past six months and realize that I have composed and delivered over thirty sermons. There have been a number of randomly inspired seasonal sermons, and, of course, the recently completed Advent series, but most of those thirty messages have comprised a survey of the sayings of Jesus, in roughly chronological order, as quoted in the first two thirds of the three synoptic gospels (a term, by the way, that I had not even heard of, before I took on this Sunday morning task).

About September, I began to wonder what I would do next, and I sort of knew that I would be taking a look at John; John as a separate entity. It is well understood that the writings of John stand apart, from the rest of the New Testament documents, as the loftiest and most mystical of all. I have always known that John was special, but I didn't know quite how; and now, as I face the challenge of dealing intelligently with John, the whole project feels not only daunting, but presumptuous--how can I, a mere layman, a musician untrained in the subtleties of biblical sophistications, hope to present anything relevant about this towering gospel?

The good news is that I have plenty of help: John is written about, a lot more than any of the other gospels, so I have a lot more to choose from, as I assemble my background material for quotation here; for instance, the opening "In the beginning was the Word," two lines of text, has yielded enough commentary for two sermons, maybe three.

As you may or may not know, I write these sermons in the following way:

1. I decide on a topic or a Bible verse to talk about.
2. I assemble a batch of quotations from the internet.
3. Then I have the computer talk this stuff onto a CD and I listen to the CD in the car rides to Valdez and Anchorage.

As I listened to the following material this weekend I began to fear that, far from having too little to say about John, I have quite possibly too much. We'll see. Anyway, here we go with John.

John 1:1-2 is one of the most famous lines in the Bible:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
 2The same was in the beginning with God.

The following discussions center on the various interpretive meanings that can be derived from that text. To me, the most important issue to contemplate is the vast significance of the Infinite made Finite in the flesh, the mind-boggling idea that the timeless eternity of the God Consciousness might articulate Itself in some limited form. Limited by definition. The Word cannot be infinite because a word refers to something--something other than itself. Thus, with His Word God divides Himself into two (at least) distinguishable entities; by creating the Word, God is choosing a single attribute out of an infinity of attributes into which to focus His divine intelligence.

In That Hideous Strength C. S. Lewis comments on the Infinite invoking finite creations out of infinite possibilities:

"To those high creatures whose activity builds what we call nature, nothing is "natural." From their stations the essential arbitrariness (so to call it) of every actual creation is ceaselessly visible; for them there are no basic assumptions: all springs with the willful beauty of a jest or a tune from that miraculous moment of self-limitation wherein the Infinite, rejecting a myriad possibilities, throws out of Himself the positive elected invention."

Let us spend the next few minutes thinking about Divine Mind squeezing itself into the limiting confines of the human mind.

From Wikipedia:
The first chapter of the Gospel of John can be divided in two parts:
"The first part (v. 1-18) is an introduction to the Gospel as a whole, stating that the Logos is "God" (divine, god-like, a god according to other translations) and acts as the mouthpiece (Word) of God "made flesh", i.e. sent to the world in order to be able to intercede for man and forgive him his sins (The Good News of the Gospel). This portion of John's gospel is of central significance to the development of the Christian doctrine of Incarnation. Comparisons can easily be drawn from this part to Genesis 1 where the same phrase In the beginning first occurs along with the emphasis on the difference between the darkness (such as the earth was formless and void, Genesis 1:2) vs light (the ability to see things not understood/hidden by the darkness, John 1:5). The summation of this comparison occurs in the statement, the law given through Moses... grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Here John successfully bridges the gap for the reader – including Jewish readers well-versed in the Torah – from the Law to the One who would fulfill the Law, Jesus. . . .

In Christology, the conception that the Christ is the Logos (Λόγος, the Greek for "word", "discourse" or "reason") has been important in establishing the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ and his position as God the Son in the Trinity as set forth in the Chalcedonian Creed."

"The Confession of Chalcedon (also Definition or Creed of Chalcedon), also known as the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union or the Two-Nature Doctrine, was adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in Asia Minor. That Council of Chalcedon is one of the first seven Ecumenical Councils accepted by Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and many Protestant Christian churches. It is the first Council not recognized by any of the Oriental Orthodox churches.
The Definition defines that Christ is 'acknowledged in two natures', which 'come together into one person and hypostasis'. The formal definition of 'two natures' in Christ was understood by the critics of the council at the time, and is understood by many historians and theologians today, to side with western and Antiochene Christology and to diverge from the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria, who always stressed that Christ is 'one'. However, the best modern analysis of the sources of the creed (by A. de Halleux, in Revue Theologique de Louvain 7, 1976) and a reading of the acts, or proceedings, of the council (recently translated into English) show that the bishops considered Cyril the great authority and that even the language of 'two natures' derives from him."

"The conception derives from the opening of the Gospel of John, commonly translated into English as: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the original Greek, Logos (λόγος) is used for "Word," and in theological discourse, this is often left untranslated.

Logos in Hellenistic Judaism
Word and related terms in earlier Jewish tradition prepared the way for its use here to denote Jesus as revealer of the unseen God (see Wisdom 9:1-4, 9, 17-18; Ecclesiasticus 24:1-12). The Jewish-Alexandrian theologian and philosopher Philo wrote extensively about the Logos in ways that are reminiscent of New Testament theology. For instance, his teaching that “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated” resembles Colossians 1:17.

[Colossians 1:17
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.]

Christ as the logos
Christians, who profess belief in the Trinity, often consider John 1:1 to be a central text in their belief that Jesus is God, in connection with the idea that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are equals. Though only in this verse is Jesus referred to as the Word of God, the theme transposed throughout the Gospel of John with variations. Theologian N.T. Wright characterizes "Word" (logos) as being incomprehensible in human language. He claims that through belief the Logos will transform people with its judgment and mercy. According to Wright, John's view of the Incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of what he terms "the liberal denial...of the idea of God becoming human...." His assessment is that when the "enfleshment" and speaking Word is removed from the center of Christian theology, all that is left is "a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles, no words of judgment (because nothing is really wrong, except saying that things are wrong), no words of mercy (because you're all right as you are, so all you need is affirmation)."

Theologian Stephen L. Harris claims the author of John adapted Philo's concept of the Logos, identifying Jesus as an incarnation of the divine Logos that formed the universe (cf. Proverbs 8:22-36).

Proverbs 8:22-36
"22 The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work,
   the first of his acts of old. 
23 Ages ago I was set up, 
at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 
26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 
27 When he established the heavens, I was there; 
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 
28 when he made firm the skies above, 
when he established the fountains of the deep, 
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, 
when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 
 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, 
and I was daily his delight, 
rejoicing before him always, 
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world 
   and delighting in the children of man.
 32 “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. 
33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. 
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me, 
watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 
35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, 
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself; 
all who hate me love death.”

• Jews. To the rabbis who spoke of the Torah (Law) as preexistent, as God's instrument in creation, and is the source of light and life, John replied that these claims apply rather to the Logos.
• Gnostics. To the Gnostics who would deny a real incarnation, John's answer was most emphatic: "the Word became flesh."
• Followers of John the Baptist. To those who stopped with John the Baptist, he made it clear that John was not the Light but only witness to the Light.

Although the term Logos is not retained as a title beyond the prologue, the whole book of John presses these basic claims. As the Logos, Jesus Christ is God in self-revelation (Light) and redemption (Life). He is God to the extent that he can be present to man and knowable to man. The Logos is God, and the risen Christ is worshiped by Thomas, who fell at his feet saying, "My Lord and my God." Yet the Logos is in some sense distinguishable from God, for "the Logos was with God." God and the Logos are not two beings, and yet they are also not simply identical. In contrast to the Logos, God can be conceived (in principle at least) also apart from his revelatory action─although we must not forget that the Bible speaks of God only in his revelatory action. The paradox that the Logos is God and yet it is in some sense distinguishable from God is maintained in the body of the Gospel. That God as he acts and as he is revealed does not "exhaust" God as he is, is reflected in sayings attributed to Jesus: I and the Father are one" and also, "the Father is greater than I." The Logos is God active in creation, revelation, and redemption. Jesus Christ not only gives God's Word to us humans; he is the Word. He is the true word─ultimate reality revealed in a Person. The Logos is God, distinguishable in thought yet not separable in fact."

Joseph Tkach: Speaking of Life
"The Gospel of John does not begin the story of Jesus in the same way as the other three Gospels.  Instead of starting with the story of Jesus’ birth like Matthew and Luke do, or with Jesus’ baptism like Mark does, John begins by taking us back in time to what he calls "the beginning."

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John opens his Gospel by talking about a Word who existed in the beginning with God, and this Word was God. This was not a created being, but rather the One through whom God did all the creating.

In verse 14, we find the identity of this Word:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

This “Word” was none other than the One who became flesh, Jesus, the Son of God. He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the second Person of the triune God, and he is one with us, fully human and fully God, representing us and substituting for us in his perfect union and communion with the Father.

By using the term “Word” to describe Jesus, John was using a term that had rich meaning to Greek and Jewish philosophers. They believed that God had created everything through his “word,” or “wisdom.” They thought of the “Word” as the rationality and creativity behind the universe.

John used this idea to explain who Jesus is: the Word become flesh. John wanted his readers to know that Jesus did not just bring a message from God and about God—he himself was the message. Jesus showed us up close, in the flesh, what the Father is like.

Shortly before Jesus was killed, Philip asked him,
"Lord, show us the Father" (14:8). And Jesus answered: "Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (v. 9).

If you want to know what God is like, then study Jesus."

Reverend William Edward Flippin, Jr., Pastor
John 1:1-14 -- The Word that Walked Around
"When we recognize that the Word that walked around as we celebrate the Season of Advent will transform our circumstances because the Word walks through our market-places, our homes and the systems around which we organize life. We are called to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us. Our thanks is displayed in our openness which will allow us to let God work within us and make us whole for the coming of the Lord Jesus who is truly the Word Made Flesh-a word that walked around."

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
"The plainest reason why the Son of God is called the Word, seems to be, that as our words explain our minds to others, so was the Son of God sent in order to reveal his Father's mind to the world. What the evangelist says of Christ proves that he is God. He asserts, His existence in the beginning; His coexistence with the Father. The Word was with God. All things were made by him, and not as an instrument. Without him was not any thing made that was made, from the highest angel to the meanest worm. This shows how well qualified he was for the work of our redemption and salvation. The light of reason, as well as the life of sense, is derived from him, and depends upon him. This eternal Word, this true Light shines, but the darkness comprehends it not. Let us pray without ceasing, that our eyes may be opened to behold this Light, that we may walk in it; and thus be made wise unto salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ.

The following quote from Rudolf Steiner suggests a connection between the truth of the Word, and the impetus behind all creation. It may be that the self-limiting character of the Word is that same self-limiting character that defines the material world in general--that the Word IS the material world. Sprung from a seed of Divine Intelligence planted in some corner of the Mind of God, the Word has generated the universe as we know it, every part of which rejoices in the knowing, and yet seeks NOT to know it--to return to the infinite space from which it banged its way to earth.

Rudolf Steiner: The Gospel of St. John
LECTURE I Cassel, St. John's Day, 1909
"You all know the opening words of the Gospel of St. John: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God. The same was in the beginning with God.’ The Word or Logos was in the beginning with God, and the Light, it is further said, shone in the darkness but the darkness comprehended it not. This Light was in the world and among men, but of those only a small number were capable of comprehending it. Then there appeared the Word made Flesh as a Man — in a Man whose forerunner was the Baptist, John. And now we see how they who had to some extent grasped the significance of this appearance of Christ upon earth are at pains to explain the real nature of Christ. The author of the Gospel of St. John definitely indicates that the deepest Being enfolded in Jesus of Nazareth was naught else than the Being out of which all beings proceeded; that it was the living spirit, the living Word, the Logos Himself."

The following sermon of Martin Luther is of interest for its crafty delving into the subtle nuances of meaning in the text. It is more a study in linguistics than it is a commentary on spiritual matters. However, it should not be surprising that a study of the Word should lead to a minutely critical examination of words. Getting your mind made up, deciding what group of arbitrarily chosen words make you the most comfortable, is part of the process of aligning your human mind with the Mind of God; that is to say: if you get all the lines of intelligent electromagnetic energy flowing in one direction, that one direction, whichever way it is, always leads to God, because God is always found at the boundary between Himself and the Word.

Sermon for the Principal Christmas Service; John 1:1-14
A sermon by Martin Luther from his Church Postil, 1521-1522


3. That this Gospel may be clearer and more easily understood, we must go back to the passages in the Old Testament upon which it is founded, namely, the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis. There we read, Gen. 1, 1-3: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light," etc. Moses continues how all things were created in like manner as the light, namely, by speaking of the Word of God. Thus: "And God said, Let there be a firmament." And again: "God said, Let there be sun, moon, stars," etc.

4. From these words of Moses it is clearly proved that God has a Word, through which or by means of which he spoke, before anything was created; and this Word does not and cannot be anything that was created, since all things were created through this divine utterance, as the text of Moses clearly and forcibly expresses it, when it says: "God said, Let there be light, and there was light." The Word must therefore have preceded the light, since light came by the Word; consequently it was also before all other creatures, which also came by the Word, as Moses writes.

5. But let us go farther. If the Word preceded all creatures, and all creatures came by the Word and were created through it, the Word must be a different being than a creature, and was not made or created like a creature. It must therefore be eternal and without beginning. For when all things began it was already there, and cannot be confined in time nor in creation, but is above time and creation; yea, time and creation are made and have their beginning through it. Thus it follows that whatever is not temporal must be eternal; and that which has no beginning cannot be temporal; and that which is not a creature must be God. For besides God and his creatures there is nothing. Hence we learn from this text of Moses, that the Word of God, which was in the beginning and through which all things were made and spoken, must be God eternal and not a creature.

6. Again, the Word and he that speaks it, are not one person; for it is not possible that the speaker is himself the Word. What sort of speaker would he be who is himself the Word? He must needs be a mute, or the word must needs sound of itself without the speaker. But Scripture here speaks in strong and lucid words: "God said." And thus God and His Word must be two distinct things.

If Moses had written: "There was an utterance," it would not be so evident that there were two, the Word and the Speaker. But when he says: "God said," and names the speaker and his word, he forcibly states that there are two: that the speaker is not the word, and the word is not the speaker, but that the word comes from the speaker, and has its existence not of itself but from the speaker. But the speaker does not come from the word, nor does he have his existence from it, but from himself. Thus, the words of Moses point conclusively to the fact that there are two persons in the Godhead from eternity, before all creatures, that the one has its existence from the other, and the first has its existence from nothing but itself.

7. Again, the Scriptures firmly and everlastingly maintain that there is only one God, as Moses begins, saying: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And Deut. 6, 4, "Hear, 0 Israel; Jehovah our God is one God." Thus the Scriptures proceed in simple, comprehensible words, and teach such exalted things so plainly that every one may well understand them, and so forcibly that no one can gainsay them. Who is there that cannot here understand from these words of Moses, that there must be two persons in the Godhead, and yet but one God, unless he wishes to deny the plain Scriptures?

8. Again, who is there so subtle as to be able to contradict this doctrine? He must distinguish or keep apart the Word from God, the speaker; and he must confess that it was before all creatures, and that the creatures were made by it. Consequently he must surely admit it to be God, for besides the creatures there is nothing but God; he must also admit that there is only one God. Thus the Scriptures forcibly conclude that these two persons are one perfect God, and that each one is the only true, real, and perfect God, who has created all things; that the Speaker has his being not from the Word, but that the Word has its being from the Speaker, yet he has his being eternally and from eternity, and outside of all creation."

"He has his being eternally and from eternity, and outside of all creation."
Let me repeat a sentence of mine from above:

God is always found at the boundary between Himself and the Word.

I think it must be apparent that the boundary between the Finite and the Infinite is a place, as Luther says, "outside creation", because for every outside there must be an inside.

I here insert a section from a sermon of Lancelot Andrewes, 1611. I came by this piece in connection with a T. S. Eliot poem which we will discuss next week. We may come back to it, or not, but it works as a interesting counterpoint to the preceding Luther sermon. It is a charming example of the kind of reasoning that was typical of renaissance Christian dogmatists. In particular, notice the emphasis on the "flesh" aspect of the incarnation of the word:

Lancelot Andrewes Works, Sermons, Volume One
Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Wednesday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. 1611.
Transcribed by Dr Marianne Dorman
AD 2001

"The Son though He be consubstantial, yet the Person of His Father may have a being long before Him. The Word makes amends for that. For the mind's conceiving and the mind cannot be severed a moment; if one be eternal, both are. So then as the Son He is consubstantial, as the Word He is coeternal.

But He begins with the Word. His care being first to tell us of the pureness of His generation before of His generation itself; but after, by little and little unfoldeth Himself and tells, He is so the Word as the Son also. Indeed, it was best beginning with the Word. That term the heathen wise men, the philosophers, would never stumble at, but brook it well enough; as indeed they did not with approbation only but with high admiration, read and magnify the beginning of this Gospel. It was to conform to their reason, Quod Deus abterno intelligit, the conceiving of the mind, and the mind must needs be coeternal, the mind never without it.

As the Word and the Only-begotten refer to One, so does caro and in nobis, flesh and in us; that is such flesh as is in us, human flesh. 1.To express the union fully, a better word could not be chosen. It is a part for the whole, and the worser part for the whole of purpose. For in this case our nature is best set out by the worser part. For this we know; if the worse be taken, the better will not be left behind. If He abhor not the flesh, of the spirit there will be no question. More forcible it is to say, "He was made flesh", than "He was made man", though both be true. He vouchsafed to become man, nothing so much as to become flesh, the very lowest and basest part of man.

Besides, from the flesh, as from Eve, came the beginning of transgression, longing after the forbidden fruit, refused the Word quite; so, of all other, least likely to be taken. The Word not refusing it, the rest have good hope.

But there is a kind of necessity to use the term flesh. If He had said man, man might be taken for a person. He took no person, but our nature He took. Flesh is no person but nature only, and so best expresseth it. And if soul, it might have been taken, as if He took not the flesh but mediante anima; but so He did not but as immediately and as soon the flesh as the soul, in one instant both.

Yet one more. It will not be amiss to tell you; the word that is Hebrew for flesh the same is also Hebrew for good tidings - as we call it, the Gospel; sure, not without the Holy Spirit so dispensing it. There could be no other meaning but that some incarnation, or making flesh, should be generally good news for the whole world.  To let us know this good tidings is come to pass He tells us, the Word is now become flesh.

Thus why flesh; why the Word, flesh. Caro Verbum was our bane. Flesh would be the Word; nay, wiser than the Word, and know what was evil better than it. If caro Verbum, our bane, then Verbum caro our remedy.

Surely, if the Word would become flesh, it were so most kindly. The Word was Pars sa, the Party that was most offended. If He would undertake it, if He against Whom the offence was would be Author of the reconciliation, there were none to that. It were so most proper."

To Andrewes, to be of the flesh is actually to OFFEND God; and yet to reconcile with God because being created FROM God, this lower form is to be accepted with love.

Oops! that word Love just sprang out of the wall didn't it? God is Love. God is the Word. Hmmm. Does that mean the Word is Love? Does that mean that Love is the Word? Let's think about that this week: are all our created works, words AND deeds, leading us toward the Glory of our ultimate reunification with God, or do we let material concerns create material fascinations. Do we fall under the spell (a spell made possible because we are flesh, and flesh is weak) of the deceiving allure of Maya, wavering on the edge of consciousness? Do we let Satan whisper in our ear all about what is so important about our worldly doings? Do we get distracted from the true course by a rabble of dumb stuff?

Let us pray: Jesus, lend us your power. We have felt it many times, and cherish it and crave it. Lend us your power, so that we can keep our lines straight. Give us the right word at the right time, so that all our doings may be illuminated with light flowing down into them from the other side. Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2012

1 Epiphany


From the Dictionary.com website:
1. a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
2. an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight."

In researching "epiphany" I ran across this thread of material about James Joyce. Joyce is famous not only for his stories, but for his aesthetic theories. Not unlike C.S. Lewis, Joyce's theories about art touch shoulders with the religious mysteries. As you all know, as an artist, I too cultivate an intimate relationship between my creative life and my spiritual life. Indeed, if your life is really integrated you should not be able to separate the carnal from the spiritual in ANY your daily doings; but-- let's get real, we are sinners precisely because we cannot sustain the state of "Constant prayer" suggested by Jesus for those who are strong enough to do so. But we can learn to use crutches to help us hobble into that angelic realm for short (and perhaps longer and longer) periods of time. My involvement in art brings me into contact with the spiritual many times day--learning how to generate artistic epiphanies in myself, has brought me a step closer to the mastering the ability to put myself in touch with God.

From About.com/Grammar and Composition:
A term in literary criticism for a sudden realization--a flash of recognition in which someone or something is seen in a new light. Adjective: epiphanic.
In Stephen Hero (1904), Irish author James Joyce used the term epiphany to describe the moment when the "soul of the commonest object . . . seems to us radiant. The object achieves it epiphany." Novelist Joseph Conrad described epiphany as "one of those rare moments of awakening" in which "everything [occurs] in a flash.""

Here's the Joyce sequence, starting with Wikipedia:

"An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something. The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has "found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture," or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference. This concept is studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.

Although epiphanies are only a rare occurrence, following the process of significant labor, there is a common myth that epiphanies of sudden comprehension have also made possible leaps in technology and the sciences. Though famous individuals like Archimedes and Isaac Newton might have had epiphanies, they were almost certainly the result of a long and intensive period of study those individuals have undertaken, not a sudden, out-of-the-blue, flash of inspiration on an issue they have not thought about previously.

The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is used much more often and without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery comes suddenly from the outside.

The word's secular usage may owe some of its popularity to James Joyce, who expounded on its meaning in the fragment Stephen Hero and the novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Referring to those times in his life when something became manifest, a deep realization, he would then attempt to write this epiphanic realization in a fragment. Joyce also used epiphany as a literary device within each short story of his collection Dubliners (1914) as his protagonists experience a moment of self-understanding or illumination, and come to sudden recognitions that changes their view of themselves or their social condition and often spark a reversal or change of heart.

From Joyce's Dubliners as Epiphanies
By Francesca Valente:

"--from Stephen Hero:
"By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments."

"Epiphany"refers to a showing-forth, a manifestation. In the Christian tradition the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ's divinity to the Magi. For Joyce, however, it means a sudden revelation of the whatness of a thing, the moment in which "the soul of the commonest object...seems to us radiant" (Joyce, Stephen Hero 213). The artist is supposed to search for an epiphany not among the gods but among men in "casual, unostentatious, even unpleasant moments" (Ellmann, James Joyce 87).
Since for Joyce "all art is a shadow of the Incarnation" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 251), his choice of the religious term "epiphany" is very appropriate because it underlines the conception he had of the artist as a priest of the eternal imagination, a revealer, i.e. a mere impersonal agent, "humble before the laws of things" and ready "to strip himself of all but his mere agency" (McLuhan, Joyce's Portrait 252)."

From Joseph Campbell's Masks of Eternity:
"Joyce’s formula for the aesthetic experience is that it does not move you to want to possess the object. A work of art that moves you to possess the object depicted, he calls pornography. Nor does the aesthetic experience move you to criticize and reject the object — such art he calls didactic, or social criticism in art. The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object. Joyce says that you put a frame around it and see it first as one thing, and that, in seeing it as one thing, you then become aware of the relationship of part to part, each part to the whole, and the whole to each of its parts. This is the essential, aesthetic factor — rhythm, the harmonious rhythm of relationships. And when a fortunate rhythm has been struck by the artist, you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest. That is the epiphany. And that is what might in religious terms be thought of as the all-informing Christ principle coming through."

I find much of interest in that paragraph; I am fascinated by the detail with which Joyce has thought through the various degrees of relationship a person can have with an art object. But I am mostly interested to read about "the harmonious rhythm of relationships". Rhythm is indeed a crucial ingredient in the evocation of an epiphany. I have already mentioned to you the material from my doctoral thesis about psychological re-centering which leads to the intuitive response. What I failed to mention to you is that the element of rhythm, the progression of the experience as it unfolds in time, is a fixture in the system: the unfolding of an epiphany obeys certain laws of nature--its sequential components accelerate through time toward an end condition in a fixed tempo relative to the materials involved. In other words, all though all epiphanies do not take the same amount of real time to unfold, the general characteristic of ACCELERATION that effects the the ultimate re-centering of the components (the ideas, the feelings, the focus), is a constant proportion. I did quite a lot of thinking and experimenting with this, and it is absolutely true that, although an intuitive response happens in a momentary flash, there is discernible a definite TEMPO to the progression of elements in the sequence that accelerates toward a specific moment. This is like escape velocity.

In the poem Adam's Curse, Yeats makes the following observation about the creation of poetry:

"I said, ' A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'"

The point here is that, generating an epiphany in oneself requires much labor and concentration over time, but the final visitation of divine light from above always illuminates the experience in a momentary flash--a flash that transports us from the mundane realm into an eternal moment. The heavenly energy that attends the experience of all great art (by definition) is always made of the stuff of eternity.

Epiphany has had a special meaning for me ever since I first learned what it was; that moment of recognition, of discovery, of "Aha!" is the moment artists seek without ceasing, when they strive to create art that tells the truth, and more, CREATES the truth out of its own internal logic.

Epiphany lost me my job once:
this new minister had just hired on at the Methodist Church where I had been leading the choir for almost five years, and, in his capacity as the new director of worship, he took exception to many of the pieces I programmed; the problem reached a climax at Epiphany:

For several years this small group and I had made a tradition of doing Randall Thompson's setting of the Robert Frost poem, "The Pasture" at this time of year. It was the previous minister, a real saint and a friend, who had introduced me to Randall Thompson in the first place, and he understood the connection I was making between the Wise Men recognizing Baby Jesus, and the recognition of the newness of life down in the pasture with the new calf. Well, this guy didn't get it, and friction arose between us that ended in my being fired.

Nevertheless, Epiphany as a time of year, and epiphany as a mode of experience, have remained meaningful to me. I think that, as rational beings, we crave control over our thoughts and actions, and we need that sense of security that comes from knowing that one thing will follow naturally from another in a familiar, predictable pattern. The epiphanic mode of experience proclaims the validity and importance of -- SURPRISE! The ability to accept surprising developments (and cherish them as gifts from God) is a powerful way to keep positive in a world in which most people dwell many hours a day on the negative. A friend of mine in L.A. used to say that a flat tire on the freeway was an invitation to experience life.

Epiphany and the aesthetic response are intimately linked. Another friend of mine likened the aesthetic response to walking in the woods and suddenly seeing a deer just inches from your hand. You may never see that deer again, but the memory of that surprise will leave an indelible impression on your mind and leave you open to being pleasantly surprised again.

The definitions given above mention epiphanic realizations coming "in a flash"; this is very much like what we have called, elsewhere, "the intuitive response". Intuitive re-centering of concepts, directed toward an end condition, bring into play pre-conscious mind states similar (or identical) to the pre-conscious mind states associated with the ancient memories of elves and fairies (including Santa Claus) which color the Christmas season. Once again, being prepared for the experience can only soften the blow SOMEWHAT--an epiphany, ready or not, will always come as a surprise, because shifting consciousness levels always results in an awakening. Epiphanies put us in contact with higher vibrational rungs on Jacob's ladder. Hence, it is very reasonable to associate an epiphany with a traumatic opening of the spiritual eyes, an enriching of the holistic experience of life.

We have talked a lot lately about pumping up the volume of our sensitivities to spiritual movement with the coming of the Christ Consciousness into the world. We have tried to prepare ourselves for the raising of consciousness through grace. Epiphany continues this spiritual evolution into an even higher level of wonder and exaltation by urging us to dwell on the unexpected blessings of Jesus's sacrifice in giving Himself to the world. It is not the coming that was unexpected, it was the depth of the experience we are given that is always a constant surprise. Accepting the newness of life at the dawn of the new year is kind of like the new wine poured into new skins.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"Epiphany, (Koine Greek: ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation", "striking appearance"or Theophany, (Ancient Greek (ἡ) Θεοφάνεια, Τheophaneia) meaning "vision of God", which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.

Eastern Churches following the Julian Calendar observe the Theophany feast on January 19 because of the 13-day difference today between that calendar and the generally used Gregorian calendar. For Roman Catholics in many countries, the feast is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8. . . .

The observance had its origins in the Eastern Christian Churches and was a general celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It included the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi ("Wise Men", as Magi were Persian priests) to Bethlehem; all of Jesus's childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee. It seems fairly clear that the Baptism was the primary event being commemorated.

Western Christians have traditionally emphasized the "Revelation to the Gentiles" mentioned in Luke, where the term Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great (King of Judea), who sought to kill him. In this event, Christian writers also inferred a revelation to the Children of Israel. Saint John Chrysostom identified the significance of the meeting between the Magi and Herod's court: "The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all."

The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus St. Epiphanius says that January 6 is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ's "Birthday; that is, His Epiphany"). He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day.

In 385, the pilgrim Egeria (also known as Silvia) described a celebration in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which she called "Epiphany" (epiphania) that commemorated the Nativity of Christ. Even at this early date, there was an octave associated with the feast.

"Octave" has two senses in Christian liturgical usage. In the first sense, it is the eighth day after a feast, reckoning inclusively, and so always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. The word is derived from Latin octava (eighth), with dies (day) understood. The term is also applied to the whole period of these eight days, during which certain major feasts came to be observed.
Octaves are not to be confused with eight-day weeks: see Christian "eighth day".

In a sermon delivered on December 25, 380, St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to the day as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), saying expressly that it is a day commemorating he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ. Then, on January 6 and 7, he preached two more sermons, wherein he declared that the celebration of the birth of Christ and the visitation of the Magi had already taken place, and that they would now commemorate his Baptism. At this time, celebration of the two events was beginning to be observed on separate occasions, at least in Cappadocia.

Saint John Cassian says that even in his time (beginning of the 5th century), the Egyptian monasteries celebrated the Nativity and Baptism together on January 6. The Armenian Apostolic Church continues to celebrate January 6 as the only commemoration of the Nativity."

[Sidebar: We will come back to this in a moment. Keep in mind here, that it is being suggested that Jesus's actual birthday is January 6. I have never thought that such things were capable of precise dating anyway, and I really don't care that much about it--but there is a point coming that is of definite interest in a trivial kind of way. Back to Wikipedia]

"Epiphany in different Christian traditions
Epiphany is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Churches, but a major difference between them is precisely which events the feast commemorates. For Western Christians, the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi; Eastern churches celebrate the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. In both traditions, the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world (whether as an infant or in the Jordan), and the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Western Christian Churches

Even before the year 354, the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity of Christ as the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25; it reserved January 6 as a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ, especially to the Magi, but also at his baptism and at the wedding feast of Cana. Hungarians, in an apparent reference to baptism, refer to the January 6 celebration as Vízkereszt which term recalls the words "víz" as water, "kereszt, kereszt-ség" as baptism. In parts of the Eastern Church, January 6 continued for some time as a composite feast that included the Nativity of Jesus: though Constantinople adopted December 25 to commemorate Jesus' birth in the fourth century, in other parts the Nativity of Jesus continued to be celebrated on January 6, a date later devoted exclusively to commemorating his Baptism.

Liturgical practice in Western Churches
The West observes a twelve-day festival, starting on December 25, and ending on January 5, known as Christmastide or the Twelve Days of Christmas. Some Christian cultures, especially those of Latin America and some in Europe, extend the season to as many as forty days, ending on Candlemas (February 2).

On the Feast of the Epiphany, the priest, wearing white vestments, will bless the Epiphany water, frankincense, gold, and chalk. Chalk is used to write the initials of the three magi over the doors of churches and homes. The letters stand for the initials of the Magi (traditionally named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), and also the phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as "may Christ bless the house".

According to ancient custom, the priest announced the date of Easter on the feast of Epiphany. This tradition dated from a time when calendars were not readily available, and the church needed to publicize the date of Easter, since many celebrations of the liturgical year depend on it. The proclamation may be sung or proclaimed at the ambo by a deacon, cantor, or reader either after the reading of the Gospel or after the postcommunion prayer."

[Sidebar: Now back to this point about Jesus's birthday on January 6:]

"Christians fixed the date of the feast on January 6 quite early in their history. Ancient liturgies noted Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio (Illumination, Manifestation, Declaration); cf. Matthew 3:13–17; where the Baptism and the Marriage at Cana were dwelt upon.
John 2:1–11;
1And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
 2And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
 3And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
 4Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
 5His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
 6And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

[Sidebar: It is pretty well understood that these water pots "after the manner of purifying of the Jews" refers to these pots of garbage water they kept by the door for you use to clean your hands and feet before you entered the house. These pots were gross--I'm sure there was mud, and sand, and dead bugs, and all other kinds of filth floating in that water.]

 "7Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
 8And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
 9When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
 10And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
 11This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."

This passage may be thought of as epiphanic because Jesus is revealing himself (against his will, but in obedience to His Mother) to the gentiles present at the feast, but this next passage is of more interest in terms of the January 6th idea:

Matthew 3:13-17
"13Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
 14But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
 15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
 16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
 17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

I have always loved this story, and, many years ago, I set it to music for my choir in Santa Cruz. The dove descending is a perfect image to objectify the coming of spirit into mundane reality. The "aha" moment felt by the onlookers at the river, must have been similar to the "aha" moment enjoyed by the Wise Men at the manger. However, it never occurred to me, until now, that Jesus might be choosing this particular day:

1. to reveal Himself to John as the Messiah, and
2. to consecrate the beginning of His ministry with a baptism,


I suggest this merely for the fun of it, and do not take it seriously, at all, but it seems not accidental that once again the birth, and the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles, are linked in spirit and, possibly, chronology.

An epiphany is a sacred thing and is to be treated with the utmost respect, but it should not be treated as a rarely visiting stranger--we should cultivate the epiphanic mind state in every moment of our lives, and find ways to send us there in a disciplined way as often as possible. Obviously, prayer is the primary vehicle Christians use to transport themselves to Heaven, but there are other ways. The key is mindfulness--REMEMBERING that the divine realm is spread out before us in infinity even though we are constantly distracted by earthly projects and problems.

For instance, I have a friend who is very interested in synchronicities. The overlapping of events, signs, and symbols is so common in life that once you start noticing them, they become commonplace--that is, you may have the experience of discovering synchronicities so often, it does not surprise you any more; that is the EVENT of discovery is not surprising--the epiphany itself is ALWAYS surprising because the advent of heavenly mind states always opens our eyes, and illuminates our experience OF ANYTHING.

Let us pray: Jesus, thanks again for the gift of Yourself. Thanks for choosing this insignificant moment of eternity in which to invest the ultimate meaning of life. Let us be mindful, in these days, that wash up on the shore of our attention, the aftermath of the Divine Birth, and let us discover, as a surprise, ONCE AGAIN, the spiritual riches that are still waiting there for us under the tree. Amen