Dry Desert
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3

Did you know that the Episcopal Church has an online dictionary?

It’s a great guide to the many terms and concepts that mark our tradition. And a good way to find something out when you’re too embarrassed to ask (not that I’ve ever used it for this purpose)!

A screenshot of a website that says An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, with a Mac laptop and iPad in the corners.

Here’s the entry for the Epiphany Season, which is the church season we just entered:

A season of four to nine weeks, from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The length of the season varies according to the date of Easter. The gospel stories of this season describe various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. The coming of the Magi is celebrated on the Epiphany. The Baptism of our Lord is observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. The gospels for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season describe the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, and various miracles and teachings of Jesus. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration. Jesus' identity as the Son of God is dramatically revealed in the Transfiguration gospel, as well as the gospel of the baptism of Christ. We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the showings of his divinity recorded in the gospels of the Epiphany season.

I highly recommend clicking through the dictionary, or use the search feature on the Episcopal Church website to search the dictionary.

You can learn little facts about cool saints, like Macrina the Younger (c. 327 – c. 379), or find out what we think is happening during the Eucharist—and everything in between.

Did you know that it’s still Christmas? Many people think “the 12 days of Christmas” refers to 12 days leading up to Christmas. But in reality, Christmas starts Christmas Day and lasts 12 days until Epiphany.

So, it’s January, but Merry Christmas!

We know that the wise men from the East arrive in Jerusalem, looking for the child whose star they’ve been following. They visit Jesus and bring him little gifts (Matthew 2:1-12). What a lovely story!

But have you ever read the rest of this story?

The wise men first meet Herod and describe the child they're seeking as "king of the Jews." That threatens Herod’s power. The verses that come next describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s fear and rage. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

[Herod] sent and killed all the [male] children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)

This tells me two somewhat surprising things:

First: the wise men visited Jesus a year or two after his birth.

I used to picture the wise men showing up at that famous manger where God incarnate was first lain.

But based on their report to Herod about the appearance of the star, Herod kills all of Bethlehem’s boy children under two years old. That means Jesus could be two in this story.

Did the wise men visit a crawling Jesus? A toddling Jesus? Did Jesus babble each of their names in his earliest imitation of language? Meditating on each of these images is delightful to me.

But second: there is unspeakable violence as part of the Christmas story.

Yes, Jesus escapes Herod’s violent attack on the children of Bethlehem. But how many children are slaughtered in this part of the Christmas story? What did it do to the people of Bethlehem—the birthplace of God into human flesh—to have two years’ worth of boy children just… gone?

The part of the Christmas story that we tell on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is lovely. It’s a cozy story of angels and shepherds and one family growing a little bit bigger. Maybe it makes us feel nostalgic for the many other times we’ve heard it. Hopefully it helps us understand God in a unique way.

But Jesus’ birth isn’t the end of this story. Jesus is born into a fallen world—a world we still inhabit and have to figure out how to navigate faithfully.

The hope of Christmas isn’t that everything is perfect now. The hope of Christmas is that even in the depths of our fallenness, we receive Emmanuel: “God with us.”

When Mrs. Handi first suggested that we try a no-rehearsal pageant, I was intrigued. What would that look like?

I believe my exact words were, "It sounds chaotic. I'm in."

Well, anyone who stuck around after the 10:15 service got a real treat! We had nine wonderful volunteers who showed up that morning with no idea what part they would play and no review of the script. Thanks to Mrs. Handi and our other intrepid volunteers, they quickly become angels, shepherds, a sheep, Mary and Joseph, and (of course) the star of Bethlehem.

Our two narrators kept us on track as they told the story of how God took on human flesh and came into the world one dramatic night, long ago.

Nine children in costumes stand at the front of a church, while one reads from a script.

As a child, I loved being a sheep in my church's Christmas pageants, mostly because I was a huge animal lover. Once I got older and was pushed into a speaking part, I insisted on being a shepherd (I think the angel dresses were unacceptably girly to me).

I cherish the memories of many years of crawling down the aisle or standing on a small stage at the front of the church, and many more years of watching my siblings do the same. And I'm so glad that we're giving similarly joyful memories to the children and youth of St. Paul's.

Last year, as you may remember, we did a digital Christmas pageant (here's where you can find that, by the way). That was an incredibly fun project to bring us together when we couldn't gather in person at all. This year, it was nice to remember that, even though we're still taking many COVID precautions, we've come a long way.