The season of Epiphany is about celebrating the coming of light to the world in the birth of Christ. The gift of light banishes darkness. Out of the cold of winter we look toward the lengthening of days found in the Lenten season. Epiphany is marked by several traditions. My cousin in Vancouver, Wash. will be hosting his Twelfth Night party this Sunday. Delicacies will be eaten, wine will be tasted, Italian glass ornaments on his tree will be admired. Episcopalians have a burning of the greens ceremony, limbs from fir trees are burned and the ashes are saved to be used for the Ash Wednesday service which commemorates the beginning of Lent. People in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and other southern regions will eat King cake and will try to find the small statute of the baby Jesus in the cake.
All of these traditions bring forth more light regarding the significance of the incarnation of God becoming human. God as Emmanuel, as being one of us, argues that we can experience more hope and joy in our lives. The light has come and has banished the darkness.
Oh, do we need more of that light now, particularly in the continuing dialogue between Christianity and Islam and other faiths? I am reminded of a story of grace that I experienced in 2000. I was in Singapore serving as the visiting Reserve Chaplain for a Naval ship that was involved in a multi-national naval exercise. During a day of liberty, a friend of mine and I toured Singapore. We went to a shopping district and discovered a mosque.
We decided that we would enter the mosque. So far, so good. The men were kneeling and praying. We removed our shoes and the worshippers there approved of our cultural sensitivity. Only one problem, it was hot that day and I was wearing shorts. I soon discovered that this is not protocol in a mosque. The attendant rushed over to me smiling, he spoke English. I told him I was from Texas and apologized. He laughed and he quickly gave me a morning jacket to put on that would cover my white forty -year old plus male legs.
At that moment, I experienced an episode of grace. What could have turned into a nasty altercation between two followers of different faiths instead transformed into a moment of understanding , grace and even humor. What a profound Christian-Muslim encounter!
Now fifteen plus years later I learn that an evangelical Christian college wants to fire a tenured professor because this individual dared to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Wheaton is planning to fire professor who said Muslims and Christians worship the same God Washington Post -
Somehow, I don't detect the extravagance of God's grace in this action. This behavior does not communicate an openness nor curiosity to want to learn more one's faith , let alone learning about a different faith of another. Muslims and others will rightly conclude that some proponents of Christianity want to be isolative, and will want to see themselves as superior. This is a sad commentary regarding ecumenical understanding and cooperation between faiths.
So, we need for light today and in the future. We need more people sharing the coats with us to cover our legs. We need more people who are will to be charitable, to save embarrassment for others, to point to the ways of similarity shared between people of various faiths.
If we want a bright future for our world, one with hope and understanding, we have to get beyond this notion of " My God is better than your God ". If this doesn't happen, then God help us.
We can do much better than this, for ourselves, our communities and our world.
May it be so.