I woke up early this morning (some might say the middle of the night!) pondering many things, most of them theological, so if that isn’t something you want to think about, you might well quit now!
It started with ponderings about Christmas and Epiphany…for I am celebrating and preaching on January 3, the Second Sunday of Christmas, while Susan, our priest is away recovering from Christmas. (Priests tend to get exhausted by Christmas and Easter doings…) We are using the Epiphany readings and hymns that day, essentially celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany…in the season of Christmas…I am loathe to give up even one day of the twelve days of Christmas, the only 12 days of the year we can sing all those Christmas hymns. (Anglicans celebrate a SEASON of Christmas, 12 days, and don’t celebrate Christmas during Advent. This is different from the secular Christmas season which begins the day after Halloween (used to be Thanksgiving!) and goes through Dec. 26th, when many people take down their decorations and start preparing for New Year’s Eve! Many churches, since churches tend to fit into the culture and re-interpret it for their own purposes, seem to be doing the same; you can hear Christmas hymns during Advent, there are pageants and “Christmas fairs” as well during those weeks leading up to Christmas. ) Anyway, I’m big on tradition, and hate to see tradition going out the window, both in secular and sacred matters! For example, Wednesday I took a friend out for lunch to celebrate her birthday to a relatively upscale restaurant. We ordered pie for dessert, and when the waitress brought it out, she put down by our plates with a flourish…a long handled sundae spoon with which I guess we were to eat this pie. NOT ME! I grabbed a fork from the next table, albeit a dinner fork, not a pie fork. I don’t eat pie with a spoon. On top of that, given the length of the spoon handle, it would have been rather difficult to cut the pie crust with the spoon. Miss Manners might well be horrified. I was annoyed. Tradition! Details!
Anyway, back to Christmas and Epiphany. TRADITIONALLY, on Christmas II, instead of a sermon, I like to sing Christmas hymns, the last time we can do that for a year…so I will, despite the fact that the organist (who apparently hasn’t read in the canons that the priest is in charge of worship!) declined to play for these hymns, since we’re celebrating Epiphany that day. Oh, well, thank God they are familiar and we can sing them without accompaniment!
So, from that annoying little altercation, my thoughts went on to the Epiphany story…and I realized how incredible it is, really. Epiphany means manifestation, or light; it is the season wherein we look at all the ways Jesus made himself known to the people of biblical times, and today, as the Christ, the son of God. Christmas is the season of God in us, God with us; Epiphany underscores that in many ways. But the Epiphany gospel itself, I realized, goes us one better. Before Peter and Paul in the New Testament have a fight over whether Gentiles need to be circumcised, whether you need to be a Jew to be a Christian; before the rest of the world started condemning other forms of worship and exploration of who God is…here it is: “wise men” (nice way to avoid the depth of the story), Magi, Astrologers, shamans of a sort, holy men in their own religious tradition, determined, THROUGH THEIR TRADITION, that there was something going on in Bethlehem, something they saw in the reading of the stars which is one way that God manifested Godself to them, and they took off on a long journey to find out what was going on. That is, they saw the legitimacy of another religious tradition, they were able to see God in us in a Jewish baby born in a manger, something foreign to their religious system. And they worshipped him. That doesn’t mean they became Jews. It means that through their tradition, they saw evidence of holiness and worshipped. And here we are today, condemning other religious traditions, sometimes saying ours is the only TRUE way to God…even Christian denominations condemning other Christian denominations for not getting it right, not believing properly, going to hell because of it. Yoikes! And here it is in scripture: honor other traditions, learn from them, anything that brings you closer to God is from God. Wow!
So, then, the question for me becomes how to honor other religious traditions and still keep my own. Just because we are all Christians in the Christian world doesn’t mean we all have to do it all the same. We are a 12 days of Christmas denomination…we have lots of things peculiar (I am using that word on purpose, but not pejoratively) to the Anglican communion that we needn’t give up in order to honor other traditions. This is who we are. Doubtless your tradition is the same: there are things that are unique to your tradition: hymns, liturgical traditions, theological beliefs. My theory is we all get part of it right, and most of it wrong. Luckily, God has a sense of humor and blesses us for trying, not necessarily in succeeding, to understand who God is and who we are as children of God. So, how to move forward and grow and at the same time, honor who we are and our traditions…that is the question for me to ponder. I am reminded that once upon a time, the metaphor for this country was “melting pot” until we realized that we were giving up a lot of wonderful traditions by all melting into the same thing, and salad bowl might well work better than melting pot: a metaphor that allows us to be a “whole” while still maintaining our individual traditions and ideas. Perhaps that would work for religion as well. In Christianity, Jesus at one point suggests that we all should be one. I am convinced that that didn’t mean we all have to think the same, do the same, worship the same, sing the same; we can be a salad bowl of Christianity. And beyond that, a salad bowl of the children of God, no matter what their religious bent. We are seekers after the holy, that is how we are one…in the seeking, not in the interpretation of what we find. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we could adopt that philosophy; I don’t know.
Oh, well, regardless, Lizzie is whining that it’s time to go feed her sheep, and despite the morning reading of -1 out on the back porch, I guess it’s time to brave the cold, and bring food and water to those critters with whom we share this land and this life. Stay warm.