The Great Emergence
Purchase a copy of Phyllis Tickle's book on how Christianity is changing and why.


Waiting for The Epiphany

Written By Phyllis Tickle

The following reflection first appeared in January 2009 as part of  First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010.

Christmas is not my favorite day, but I am inordinately fond of the season. That is, I am fond of it if one defines “season” liturgically and means thereby the twelve days that run from Christmas Day to January 6th.

Please understand, the time of Advent—those four weeks that precede Christmas and run right up into it—has its good points, as a rule. I like the carols and have even been known to tear up a time or two at the hush that follows a brilliant reading of the appointed sacred texts. At a just plain human level, I am almost always moved by the sheer wonderment of some child or other who, being innocent of the ways of the world, is visibly wrapped in the magic of confident anticipation. But those things aside, the tick-up to Christmas that occupies all of December, right up til about three o’clock in the afternoon of the 25th is a time of sustained restiveness for me.

While I have, until a week or so ago, never been able to identify precisely the causes behind my inability to be delighted, I have for years been very sure that my lack of engagement had nothing to do with the politically correct stance of those who deplore the consumerism and commercialism of December. I may not particularly like those things,  but unfortunately I am not bothered enough to actively deplore them either. Then, about a fortnight or so ago, as the old familiar malaise began to seep like a malevolent Scrooge into my soul, I for the first time had an inkling of what had been going on for all these many years.

We were talking, some acquaintances and I; or at least, we were making polite chatter as we waited for others to join us for dinner. The conversation swung over to children and then to babies when I heard myself say, as I have so many times before, “I don’t like babies particularly, or children either…at least not until they are old enough to talk back, tell you what they think, say what they want.”

Now I have expressed those very genuine feelings often enough over the years so that even my own children are no longer offended by the truth of them. But this time it was different. This time I heard myself and took myself at face value. This time I realized that I don’t really know how to engage Jesus, the infant, or even Jesus, the toddler. And aside from the theological and incarnational implications involved, I can’t even get excited about His ever having been such. I just want to rush through all that stuff and get to the Man, the same way I used to want to push on with expeditiousness through the infancy and early years of our own children. In their case, I wanted desperately to know what was inside, like unwrapping a real package, and not just some transient or material one. I wanted to know what we had. And it’s the same for me with Jesus …always has been, apparently. I just wasn’t self-perceptive enough to know it.

Do I think children—even divine ones—are not shaped by the months and years of their growing up. Yes, of course I do.  But I also think that there is a foundational integer in there somewhere that is the essence … the is-ness … of every one of us; and I am in love with that is-ness all over again every time I can see flashes of it in somebody, or detect intimations of it, or evoke retorts from it.  It’s what being alive is for me, this business of trekking through to the center, both my own and everybody else’s. Epiphany, the Church calls that experience.

Sometimes we lower-case the whole thing, as in epiphany, and use it to mean simply arriving at some new comprehension or engagement of some part of the center. On other occasions, at least when the Church uses it, it’s an upper-case, as in Epiphany, and means to name the manifestation of Jesus’ jesusness to us who are still caught in time. Thus the hearing of a divine voice at His baptism by John, the baptizer, or His transfiguration on Mt. Tabor may sometimes be presented as Epiphanies. But when it’s upper-cased and preceded by the as in The Feast of the Epiphany … ahhh, then it is that my soul rises up and sings … sings to what it sees but can never own or fully know … sings to what it intuits as the Marker on the trail into home … sings to the wafting, pervasive perfume of God-Among-Us.

All of which is to say that I have been in advent stance some ten days now, waiting … waiting for Tuesday to come … waiting for The Feast of the Epiphany … waiting to hear the words signaling that at last the game of holy courtship has begun all over again and for another year…

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning.

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms, Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…..Isaiah 60: 1ff

Amen, Amen. Let all the people this Tuesday say, Amen.

Copyright © 2009 Phyllis Tickle