Print Version January 6th, 2000
Time for an informal millennium survey: hands up if you partied the night away; hands up if you celebrated quietly with friends or family; hands up if you met the New Millennium tucked safely in your bed!
To be honest the whole day was a couch potato’s paradise, a channel surfer’s dream. I tuned in early on Friday morning just wanting to check if the lights had been going out all over the world as a new dark age fell upon us. I didn’t believe it would but you’ve got to make sure haven’t you. It could have. The way people were talking the world seemed so fragile—so interconnected and interdependent—with the bubble of technology about ready to burst. But of course it didn’t, it hasn’t.
Instead I found myself captivated by images of celebration from all around the world. The whole round world in on the party and vying to do it best. Even places with no investment in the Christian calendar were in on the act because their computers at any rate were Christian. The TV is Christian, Coca Cola is Christian. Or ticks to the Christian clock.
Epiphany! The whole world celebrating the birth of Christ? Was it? What were we celebrating as the dead of night rolled around the globe? There was so much dazzle, each time zone turning up the tech to make the darkness as bright as can be and show it off to the world. Fireworks. Lasers. Confetti cannons. Crystal balls. All computer-controlled.
The wonders of science made all this possible. Science gave it all the thrill of possible disaster too. One world. One party. One light.
Those three wise men, three kings, magi—they followed their best wisdom, used their best star charts, calculated with their best clocks, applied all the science and came all that way to touch the place where God was being unveiled on earth. And they found a strangely vulnerable God. Not in a palace. Not even in a home. But out in the cold. Companioned by cows. Bedded in straw. God in a woman’s arms, hungry for milk, needing … everything.
Where in the world was God unveiled these last days? Well “everywhere” is surely one answer. Everywhere if you care to look. In the laughter and the dancing, in the quiet toasts and the auld langs ayne, even in the snoring. But three images from that global hullabaloo shed a more focused light.
The first moment of the new millennium in the farthest east. An old man paddling a canoe into pacific darkness with a young boy holding up a burning torch, carrying a light kindled in darkness out for the whole world. An island in the middle of nowhere. A fragile light that could have gone out at any moment. Who knows where it will end up? Epiphany.
The first child of the new millennium. Born in New Zealand as the clock ticked one minute into the year. Not one of the contenders for the Honor, the countless contrived conceptions, hungry for fame, but unnamed, anonymous, and protected by parents from publicity and saved for sponsorship. But sadly not safe from the fragility of all life. He’s not doing well. Hanging on. Just. And he may not make it. And I think that could have been me—I might never have made it into the world—and it could have been Jesus. The magi might have followed their star and found not a babe born to be king but a grieving mother inconsolable by gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God has some stupid ideas. To enter the world in so fragile a form. Not even protected by palaces and power but poor, exposed, and on the run. A light flickering in the darkness. Who knows where it will end up? Epiphany.
Another image. An old man returning to the cell where the prime of his life was wasted. Nelson Mandela on Robben Island lighting a candle and handing it on to his successor. Handing it on to us too. A very fragile light. Held up against bitterness, against regret, against despair. An unwanted light maybe. Not easy to bear. Who knows where it will end up? Epiphany.
Here we are at the beginning of a Jubilee year. These days we are all magi. But we don’t have to “traverse afar” since the whole world now comes to our door and leaves its gifts whether we want them or not. And God is unveiled all around us, as fragile as ever, as vulnerable, and as much in need. God has some stupid ideas. Perhaps the strangest is to involve you and me in all this. To hand us this obscure light and say take it and paddle your canoe out into the dark ocean. Take it and don’t let its life go out. Take it and don’t let it be imprisoned or hidden or snuffed out.
Who knows where it will end up? Epiphany.