By Sam Gutierrez
“When he came to his senses… he got up and went to his father.” / Luke 15:20
One of my favorite hymns was written over 250 years ago by Robert Robinson. One verse comes and goes so quickly that if we're not paying attention the melody will easily carry us into the next compelling stanza. But if we pause for a moment on the lyric - prone to wander, Lord I feel it - we'll realize that these seven words summarize the inclination and journey of every human heart. Sometimes strong, sometimes subtle, our hearts feel a strange pull to leave home and wander in foreign lands in search of something other.
In response to all this wondering, the forty days of Lent can be summed up with one powerful word – Return.
Many times over the course of our lives we leave the well-marked path of wisdom. We wander, we take short-cuts, we blaze our own trail and eventually without fail - we get lost. When the pain of our wandering forces us to stop and stand still, we begin to sense a homing beacon inside of us. We listen and hear a compassionate voice whispering in the depths of our hearts. Lent is an invitation to tune our ear and listen to that voice.
Lent is also an invitation to weep over the string of disasters left in our wandering wake. Then, to gather our empty stomachs and sad hearts and bravely start the journey home. While we journey on our way, we find courage and strength knowing that the whisper heard in the depth of our being belongs to Someone who has been patiently watching and eagerly waiting for our return. The porch light has been left on and the front door left ajar.
However, if for some reason our souls have been desensitized to subtle call of home, then Lent has an assertive backup plan: trumpets. One of the traditional passages for the beginning of Lent is Joel 2. The passage starts with a shout, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy hill...” The heralding horn blast is meant to startle you awake and call you to attention, urging you to stop falling asleep to your one important life.
As we enter this season of Lent, think about all the ways you leave home, wandering in search of something that will satisfy. Like the prodigal son, you may be tired of being in a far-away country, waist-deep in waste. If that’s the case, then Lent is a perfect time to make a change. It’s time to wake up, weep over your wandering, and start the journey home.
The good news of the gospel is that before we even consider returning home, God has been out searching for us. Lent is about turning but the moment we turn, we find God there – with open arms, having traveled a great distance to find us and welcome us home as beloved sons and daughters.
Rev. Sam Gutierrez
I love dimmer switches. I was happy when the house we moved into this past summer already had dimmer switches installed in almost every room. Often, turning the light on “full bright” is a little too glaring, so I find a spot just below that adds a little more ambiance to the room – it’s easier on the eyes and creates a more relaxed vibe.
The season of Epiphany is like a dimmer switch. During this liturgical season, through various biblical stories, the light is slowing brightening and we begin to see more clearly that the vulnerable baby born in a manger is the glorified king of heaven and earth.
The season of Epiphany begins with the feast of Epiphany on January 6 and ends the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Depending on where Easter falls (it’s a moving holiday) the season of Epiphany can be as short as 4 weeks and as long as 9 weeks. The word Epiphany means “to appear” or “to bring to light” (hence dimmer switch) – it’s a season of increasing light and ends with the lights on maximum: Transfiguration Sunday. On the mountain top, Jesus’ glory is revealed and we catch a glimpse of his divine nature – a vision that’s a little too bright for human eyes.
The beginning of Epiphany is framed by three key stories from the life of Jesus. The first is the visit of the Magi from the East. This story tells us that Jesus came for all people (not just the Jews) and the good news stretches East and West, North and South – redemptive news for the whole world. The second framing story is the Baptism of Jesus. In this narrative, the dimmer switch gets turned up a few notches – we learn more about the true identity of Jesus - the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The third framing story is the first miracle of Jesus when he changed water to wine at a wedding feast in Cana. The water basins that were used for ritual cleansing were changed into lavish amounts of wine. Wine symbolizes the intoxicating love, generosity and grace that Jesus came to initiate and demonstrate.
Epiphany is a rich, but unfamiliar and overlooked season. January is considered a cold and dark month – the merriment of the Christmas season is over, the new year has begun and we’re back at work or in school. Culturally, these weeks are marked by a return to routine.
But liturgically, Epiphany is a season of quiet hope with a watchful eye towards God’s promise to bring wholeness to the entire galaxy in the person of Jesus. It’s also a time of spreading this good news and so we look for little ways to spread hope to those around us. We pray for our friends, neighbors, relatives, children, family members and spouses who don’t know Jesus yet. We believe that “in him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1: 4-5
Taking it another step: