Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.

Other epiphanies

In light of the definition of “epiphanies” in the post of that name, what are some epiphanies that you have had? An epiphany is an experience that conveys an idea, a conviction. It is not merely an experience but is rather a moment of realization, usually provoked by some personal and sometimes very subtle event.

For example, I remember when I was in college, coming home from the weekend and going to my father’s farm (a hobby with him, we not being farmers). He had planted some strawberries and I picked one and put it in my mouth. It was delicious, in its sweetness and tartness and texture a taste of perfection. And it flashed on my mind that this external world is somehow aligned with me. Existence is not absurd or random or meaningless, as I had been taught in some of my college courses. It had a meaning. I didn’t particularly know what it was at the time, but eating that strawberry was an epiphany for me.

When I was in Estonia while it was still a part of the Soviet Union, I had an economic epiphany when I changed $20 of hard currency and received an engineer’s monthly wages in rubles in return, only to go into a shop to find nothing for sale. It hit me then that free enterprise economics is far superior to a socialist command economy, nudging me away from the liberalism of my birth. I also had a political epiphany there, shaking hands with a poet who had just gotten out of a mental hospital where he had been consigned for years for writing a poem criticizing Communism. I realized then the power of writing and the utter evil of totalitarianism.

I wonder if our beliefs are shaped more by our epiphanies than abstract arguments. At any rate, now it’s your turn. What are some epiphanies when the light, of various kinds, dawned on you?

Journey of the Magi

Consider this poem, Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Go here to listen to a recording of Eliot himself reading his poem: Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – Poetry Archive.  (And notice what happened to his St. Louis accent after going off to England!)

Now, class:  What is the meaning of these images in the second stanza: the three trees on the low sky; the vine leaves on the lintel; the hands dicing for pieces of silver; the empty wine-skins?

What is the meaning of this statement in the third stanza:  “I had seen birth and death,/But had thought they were different”?

The Name of Jesus

New Year’s Day marks the day the baby Jesus was circumcised and given His name.  The name of Jesus, at which every knee shall bow, confesses His identity and His purpose.  In fact, though some people claim Jesus is just a moral example, His very name confesses the Gospel.  Let’s let Rev. William Weedon tell you about the name of Jesus:

You can’t read very far along in the Sacred Scriptures before you notice what a big thing this “naming” is – Adam, naming the beasties in Eden; God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham; God instructing His priests, as in today’s first reading, in how to put His name upon the people “and I will bless them.” Names in the Bible are anything but a distinguishing tag so you don’t get Johnny confused with Jimmy. They are revelatory – they disclose a person’s proper relation to God Himself or God’s own relation to people.

So the big deal of the name given THIS day, only name given under heaven by which we must be saved: Jesus. For this name is shared by God and Man – He who is one person in two natures bears this name and it discloses the innermost ache of the divine heart: to save. Jesus means Yahweh saves.

His desire is to save you, to rescue you, to deliver you from bondage to sin, from all that makes your life bitter and miserable by your own doing or from that of others. “Save” in Greek implies also “heal.” He wants to heal you, to restore you, to bring you into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

For, as St. Paul in today’s epistle points out: “before faith came we were held captive under the law.” Satan has us by rights. And the law – that immutable expression of the divine will for all human life – well, all it could do was inform us of what we were not – and thus accuse us for not living as we ought. The Law condemns – not because the Law is bad, but because the Law is good, and we sadly, by birth are not.

But good news! Yahweh saves.

via Weedon’s Blog.

Your predictions for 2011

So, what do you predict will happen in 2011?  The more specific you are, you more amazed we will be if you are right.   Around this time next year, we will check the results to praise you for your foresight, or not.  (See below.)

Checking your predictions for last year

It’s time to revisit the predictions some of you made last year around this time.

The big winner:  Chryst, who predicted that Matt Harrison would be elected LCMS president on the first ballot with 54% of the vote.  He actually received 54.95%, but that is close enough and an amazing feat of prediction, especially for last January when Harrison’s prospects seemed dim.

Dan Kempin also nailed the political developments, though he squandered his prophetic title by predicting the dominance of the Vikings and the apotheosis of Brett Favre.

Other football predictions were outrageously wrong.  So, fortunately, were the predictions about terrorism.

Several people predicted fairly well what would happen to the economy.  As for tODD, I can’t tell if he is right or if he would have been stoned in the Old Testament days.

The biggest loser was Cindy R., who, however, due to her last prediction, like last year, also was one of the biggest winners.

Well, see for yourself.  Who else deserves praise or ignominy?:

EricM

1 – (not too much of a prediction here but…) Health care reform passed with no public option and no funding for abortion. The President and Democrats declare victory as they didn’t want to drag the issue too far into 2010 since it is an election year. It will be hard to call it reform as many of the original goals (covering the uninsured, decreasing costs) are not achieved.

2 – The economy continues a long slow recovery. Unemployment is an issue for most of the year as the percentage of unemployed does not go below 8%. However, the decrease in unemployment (from 10%) is seen as a victory in the press leading into the 2010 election. Regulations are increased on a number of industries such as banking which provides the appearance of stability while limiting the economic recovery.

3 – The 2010 election decreases the Democrat majorities. There are two possibilities as to the extent of the decrease: a) if the Republicans continue doing what they have been doing (i.e. not returning to their roots of lower taxes and smaller government) then they are still the minority in both houses with a 55-45 split in the Senate. b) if the Republicans see their error and go back to their roots their victory is much bigger. They win the majority in the Senate and are very close in the House. State elections follow a similar trend. Unfortunately, I think it will be more (a) than (b).

4 – Iraq stablizes and we continue to pull troops out.

5 – Afganistan is a mess. The government is not stable (due to the corruption). President Obama is forced to dance around his promise of troop withdrawal. In the end, the President searches for some way to declare victory and to start bringing troops home but he is unable to find one.

John

I predict that Israel will smuggle a truck carrying a low altitude nuclear incendiary device (LANID) into Tehran and obliterate Iran, but make it look like North Korea did it.

Peter Leavitt

We may predict a further strengthening of Christian theological orthodoxy and a further weakening of the dominant secular liberal elites.

We may predict that the the 2010 elections will yield enough Democratic defeats to deter Obama and the Democratic Congress from furthering their large spending, radical agenda.

We may predict further strenuous though largely civil debate on this excellent blog-site.

A.D.P.

You, Dr. Veith, will eat popcorn several times this year.

tODD

I think it’s easy to predict that Republicans will increase their numbers in Congress in this year’s elections. But by how much? I have no real idea, but I’ll predict that Democrats maintain control of both houses. That way, if I’m right, I’m right. And if I’m wrong, we have more gridlock. Win-win!

I’ll also be so bold as to predict that there will be an increase in the number and tenor of partisan complaints against Obama and Democrats in general. Some of these will be justified, but the vast number will be silly and overblown. (If it helps, I will point these instances out to you in the months to come.)

The US will move away from a terrorism policy of expensive state-based wars and towards quick-strike actions, many covert. (Is this really a prediction?) Naturally, this will be derided by Republicans and conservatives for not taking the “war on terror(ism)” seriously.

And, defying all odds (and logic), the Rice Owls will win the Super Bowl. (Certainly a long shot, but man, if that does happen, just think of the glory!)

Booklover

What is a Rice Owl???

I predict that the baby of the family will barely graduate, causing me to have a shock-induced stroke, causing me to have a vision of Obama beckoning, “We will take caaarrrre of you,” causing me to pass on and be with Jesus, causing the rest of you to be left on this earth enviously where you don’t belong.

I just had a fabulous date with hubby and am in a weird mood. Please indulge.

Chryst
I predict Matt Harrison will be elected as LCMS president by a vote of 54% on the first ballot.

Cindy R.

I predict that Texas will defeat Alabama in the BCS national championship game, and Colt McCoy will be named the game’s MVP. The BCS will revamp their system before the government steps in to do it for them.

The Packers will meet the Vikings in the NFL playoffs, and the Packers will win.

Dan Kempin

I’m a little late, but here goes:

In 2010, the political opposition will accuse the president of gross ignorance and incompetence, pointing out that he clearly has no idea of the consequence of his actions. They will also accuse him of being a shrewd, though evil, genius who is manipulating events masterfully according to a larger plan.

Problems with the economy will be placed at the feet of the president and his party (possibly dusting off the old classic, “It’s the economy, stupid,” though I am not sure about that detail.) The president, in turn, will respond to this criticism by blaming his predecessor.

All of this will lead to a political movement for “change in Washington,” using such words as “groundswell,” “grass roots,” and “backlash.”

That is my prediction for 2010.

I would also like to submit this prediction for all future years of this contest, and if possible submit it retroactively for every year I have been alive.

Dan Kempin

I also predict that the Viking will be superbowl champs, thus cementing Brett Favre’s legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time.

(That way, like tODD, if I’m right, I’m right, and if I’m wrong, the Vikings lose. Win-win!)

Jonathan
Would that I were wrong, a major terrorist attack on the U.S., leading to a third front in the war.

Economist Doug

I predict the economy will fall back into recession later this year (although it may not be recognized until early 2011).

Unemployment will fluctuate between 8.5% – 10.5% fairly randomly.

Housing will begin another slump (if the buyer’s tax credits are ever taken away).

In 2009 Michigan, Maine and Rhode Island lost population. This year several more states will lose population.

A spate of suspicious deaths of wealthy elderly people will occur in 2010. The deaths will be linked to the scheduled dramatic rise in the Estate Tax in 2011.

Cindy R.

I predict that, 355 days from now, I will be declared the biggest loser of the 2010 predictions contest.


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