I know I am a day or two early for Epiphany, but I will be in Berlin from early tomorrow morning and not sure about my blogging facilities there. But, I’ve been thinking about Epiphany anyway and thought I’d add to what everyone else will be writing/saying about it.
TS Eliot said that the Magi had a hard time of it, getting from where they came from to Bethlehem. Evelyn Waugh has an interesting take on the journey in his excellent little book, Helena. (Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine.) At the end of the book – and the end of her own life’s journey to and through faith – she concludes of the Magi:
Like me,… you were late in coming… How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts! …
Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were bought with love…
You are my especial patrons, … and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents…
For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.
The older I get, the more sympathetic I become to those who struggle to believe that God is there or that he loves them. I am referring to those who don’t reject Christian faith out of some intellectually fundamentalist snobbery or wilful ignorance, but, perhaps even reluctantly, are full of questions and doubts and struggles with the integrity or reality of it all. Maybe Epiphany is really for them.
But I want to associate with them a character I have written about in Scandal of Grace (I think): Zebedee. Zebedee was the father of James and John, the disciples of Jesus. When his boys left their nets and went walkabout with Jesus, Zebedee must have consented to their going. Furthermore, he must have then had the responsibility of finding or hiring others to do the work his sons had now left behind them. In other words, he made their discipleship possible – and he paid the price for their commitment.
I have heard many sermons about discipleship in which people like Peter and Andrew and James and John are held out as the model for radical discipleship. I have never heard a sermon in which Zebedee is held up to be the model of most people’s discipleship: unspectacular and undramatic, keeping the show on the road and the cash coming in in order to allow the others to go off and do the ‘holy’ stuff.
So, at this Epiphany I salute the Magi-like searchers and the Zebedees of this world – who might just encourage those who journey, search, get easily distracted and just keep the routines going while others do the ‘glory’ stuff.