We celebrated Epiphany at church yesterday--a day late, I suppose. But Baptists have great leeway when celebrating any festival of the liturgical year. You're lucky we celebrated it at all, quite frankly.
For the first time, as I prepared the service, I was impressed with how expansive epiphany really is. The readings for the day all celebrate the expansive grace of God which pours out beyond any barriers we might have set up over time. God's grace is for all people. And God's love will not rest until all are brought into God's embrace. (Indeed, nothing is beyond God's embrace!)
The magi who came to meet the Child of Grace were among the first to recognize this expansive salvation. (The Hebrew word for salvation also means spacious, by the way!) Anna and Simeon, in Luke 2, also recognize it when they encounter the Little One on his eighth day.
I was aware of these things as I prepared the service earlier in the week. But by the time I'd gotten to Sunday morning, my own heart was heavy from a week's worth of accumulated burdens. I was cranky yesterday morning. My son was sick. I didn't have everything done that I needed to be done. I was running late. My computer was giving me troubles. I left the house already worn out and not the least enthused about going to--much less leading--worship.
Thing is, I needed worship. But what I need is rarely what I want. Besides which, I'm still getting used to the idea of needing worship as a worship leader. Precisely because I don't feel centered yet. I feel like I'm in the shallow end. Or up in the high gales. I'm not deep in the calm waters, or far below the bending branches in the quiet beneath. I guess somewhere I'd gotten it into my head that to lead worship with integrity, one needed to start from a place of wholeness. I'm starting now to think the opposite may be true.
My worship started in an unexpected way, though. It began when I was readying the sanctuary before the service started. I decided to take down the Advent Wreath. Though we could have justified using it through the season of Epiphany, in fact the blue candles were becoming mere stubs--and folks would be so distracted wondering if the wreath would go up in flames at any moment that the symbol wouldn't be able to function effectively anymore!
So I moved the wreath into the closet and picked up our nearly brand new Christ candle (lit only twice) to find a new, prominent position for it. As I did so, I noticed that the last time I'd snuffed the candle out, the wax had managed to completely seal over the wick--so that it could hardly be perceived at all!
Well, our Epiphany service was sopped through with Light imagery. And if there was ever a day we needed the Christ candle lit, this was it!
So for the next ten or more minutes, I gently, carefully, and diligently eased the wick from the candle. First using match after match, I would slowly melt the wax around the wick, then gently try and press it away. I was always aware of how delicate a wick can be. The slightest tug can rip off it's tip--resulting in a pathetic, tentative flame. After a while I abandoned the individual matches for the larger candle-lighter--those huge brass things you only ever see in churches. I could hold the flame to the wax a bit longer that way. Then I could set my finger into the hot wax and gently shape it away from the wick.
It was only after I'd been at it for quite some time that I started to become aware of the gift and privilege in this task. Coaxing the light on Epiphany.
The buried wick wasn't so different from my experience that morning. (Or last month, in my state of exhaustion for that matter!) Nothing could be forced in that time. But the gentle coaxing with the warmth of a flame reminded me of what I most want, to burn bright. There was something truly beautiful, in those moments of preparing the space for worship, as I slowed my pace to the attention of one detail. It was in that moment that my worship began--when I attended to my own need for the light of Christ.