Winter Light

My January column from the Christian Courier.


As this column appears in your mailbox we are in the season of Epiphany—in the midst of the church’s celebration of light and the one who is the light of the world. The texts that echo in our ears and minds are those that invite: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Or which declare: “Jesus did the first of his signs…and revealed his glory.”

Yet as I write the words of this column we are still in the thick of Advent. The present season is as much about darkness and judgment as it is about the light that shines in the darkness. On the Sunday that approaches we will hear “rejoice in the Lord always,” alongside “You brood of vipers.” The one for whom we wait is a judging/saving God who names our death dealing ways.

Thinking beyond the church year, the earth’s tilted, rotating orbit around the sun implies a similar gap between the writing and the reading of this column. As I write these words in early December we are still on our way toward the longest night of the year. You read them on the other side of the winter solstice, with daylight hours steadily increasing.

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Baptism of Jesus – the water of Jordan as blessing – from an Armenian liturgy for Epiphany

From a 1905, Armenian liturgy, for the blessing of water in Epiphany;

“And now we pray thee, Lord who lovest mankind, send thy holy Spirit from above into this water. Bless and hallow it, and endue it with the grace of the Jordan. And make it a fountain of blessing, and a gift of incorruptibility; a loosing of sin, a healing of the sick, dread ruin of demons, health of the afflicted, fearless of the power that confronts, filled full with angelic power.”

Beautiful, rich, and powerful. I’m focusing on “the grace of the Jordan”. As Kilian McDonnell points out, there are two traditions regarding the Jordan – one that says you must go there because its waters are blessed – another that says that the blessing of Jordan (and of Jesus’ baptism there) reaches us wherever we are. This liturgy assumes the latter – as do I.