January 6, 2019: Epiphany

Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher Jr.

January 6th, 2019

(This sermon has been transcribed from live video.  Please click here to watch the video version.) 

I have been in a parish ministry in one form or another for the past 23 years, and so there are certain things that I’ve gotten used to counting on every time Christmas season comes. And one of those things that I’ve come to really count upon is that as soon as the last note is played on the Christmas Day service, as soon as that happens, I will start to feel myself get a little sick. And then by the end of my duties on Christmas Day, I will go home and I will be slain. I do not know what it will be but it will be like something horrendously bad will happen to my body.

It will be, either, it will be like a flu. One time it was the flu and one time it was, I had from all the stress of the observances. I had eczema from the top of my head to my toes, something will happen that will tell me that I have been working too hard. And so, as we finished this year, I went home and I prepared my family and we had a supper inside. And I went up into my bedroom and I closed the shades and I got into bed and I just waited. It was going to happen.

And then to my surprise, nothing happened. I went to sleep, I woke up, I ate, and I was fine. And I kept on waiting for the moment in which there would be some message connected to this reprieve. What is God trying to do in my life by doing this to me? By not getting me sick as a dog. And then we flew the next day to the Los Angeles area for some family vacation and I thought, well this will be certainly the time in which I get sick. I’ll be on this plane for several hours. I’ll be taking care of my parents who are a little bit elderly and need some extra care. Nothing. I felt great.

And so, then I just got up and I looked in the mirror and I realized that I haven’t cut my hair for a month and a half. And I decided I needed a haircut. I tried to get a haircut with Joe Bruglio, Chris’s husband but he was too busy to see me. He was seeing other priests as it turns out. I was being angled out again. And so, I got on the internet and I looked around for barbers in Los Angeles and this is an incredibly intimidating thing to do because the level of culture in LA around personal appearance is incredibly high. And you are all beautiful people, but you know what I’m saying.

And so, I looked on the internet and I found this one person’s name and I decided I was going to trust this barber. And the name of his barbershop was the, “Son of God” barbershop. I’m not kidding you. And so, I dialed it into my phone, the family went on a little excursion to Beverly Hills and I begin to look for the Son of God. And it turns out there wasn’t like a normal barbershop front. I was looking for the pole. I was looking for like maybe a signage. There was no signage. There was only an address.

And so, I stopped a couple of people, I said do you know where the “Son of God” barbershop is? And they said, no. And so, then I kind of went and I found the address, the physical address and there on the side was this little, this little sign that just had SG. And so, I went in. It was like something out of Sherlock Holmes. I went in. I went up these stairs and then suddenly there was this underground market of barbershops in Beverly Hills.

People who can’t afford to go to the normal barbershops. There are all these little stalls where all these barbers are working and all these hair cutters are working. And they were full of people. They were full of people that could not afford to go to the normal salons which charge about $100 for a haircut, I learned. And so, I asked the first person, I saw. I said, I’m looking for the “Son of God.” And they said, who? And I said, he’s a barber here and they said, I don’t know who that is and then somebody says, wait, wait, I know that guy. He’s down the hall, all the way down to the right and you’ll see them.

So, I went too far and I asked one more time and then finally I walk in and there is this young Hispanic man just sitting in his barber chair and I said, are you the “Son of God?” and he smiled and he said, yes, I am the “Son of God.” And so, I sat in his chair and he started to cut my hair and he told me his name was Ed and he told me a little bit of his story. I said, why did you name your barbershop, the “Son of God?” and he said well, it’s funny. I was raised Catholic but didn’t really observe and then I got together with this woman who was a Christian and she said if I was going to be her boyfriend, I had to go to church with her. So, we went to church and that made an impact on me.

I was welcomed by this non-denominational Christian community. And the relationship didn’t work out, but my faith in God was changed. I don’t go to church enough now. I’m trying as hard as I can to support my wife and my two children. But when it came to starting this barbershop, I decided that I would call it the “Son of God” barbershop. And everybody said to me that that would be a mistake. That people will get confused. That I would get weird people that would come in and try to talk me about things. But every time since I’ve opened this shop, I’ve only had good experiences.

And then he said to me, what do you do? And I said, I’m a priest. And he said, I’ve never cut a priest’s hair. And so, he cut my hair with such delicacy and he was so careful. He used the straight razor. Now, he did cut me twice right above the ear but I thought if it was the “Son of God” barbershop, of course, there would be blood involved. One way or another, someone was going to bleed and I’m sure it was kind of symbolic. I hardly even knew it happened because he was so quick with the alcohol and a little bit of whatever the Lidocaine or whatever he does.

And as I was going through this experience and talking to him about his life of faith and hearing his whole story, I suddenly realized that everything that was happening to me was kind of like this weird, real-time repetition of epiphany. Epiphany is that moment in which the Magi kind of follow a star and they go looking for the Son of God. And you know, the internet is basically the stars of our time, right? I mean, if we want to get some place, we just dial it in on the internet and kind of follow the map.

They’re our way of negotiating time and space and that kind of weird itinerary of like knocking on doors and not finding the right place, I imagined, that’s exactly what the Magi did. And that moment, in which I saw this unlikely Son of God, this young man, this Hispanic man, this man who actually didn’t know as much as I thought he would know for someone who would call their shop, the “Son of God” just pure devotion, pure devotion. That also I think is a little bit like epiphany because epiphany was the beginning of the Christmas story. It really isn’t the end.

We’re treating it like the end because we’ve got other things to do. We’ve got to move on to epiphany and then Lent and then Easter, Pentecost, the church keeps moving. But epiphany actually represents a kind of fundamental beginning point in our faith. And most importantly, as I reflected on that moment, I realized that epiphany is often seen as a journey. The Magi go looking for the Christ child by following the star. But in fact, the real story of epiphany is that the Light of God has come into this world. It’s not the Magi who have made the journey.

The Magi have only been faithful to a God who was already doing in their lives and in their world. And when I went looking for the “Son of God” barbershop, I was simply following a name I knew, the name that had already been put out. Epiphany is that moment in which we recreate that story of the Magi because the Magi are us. We are the Magi, said O’ Henry in that famous beautiful short story, “The Magi.” We are the Magi. And the gifts we give are an echo of the gift that God has already given us. God has given God’s self to us in Jesus. And the Magi are the first people that give something in return.

They enter into that cycle of generosity which was a new thing. We tend to think about epiphany as happening in the past. When in fact, all of our readings for today, they want us to see epiphany as something that happens in the present and in the future. So, our reading from Isaiah is a promise for the future and the present. There will be a time, the prophet tells us, when kings shall see and stand up. Princes – and they shall prostrate themselves because of the Lord who is faithful. The Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.

Now, when the first Christians saw Jesus of Nazareth and when they learned that primal story of the Magi, they immediately thought about this verse and they understood that the present that they were living in, the future of the Kingdom of God that they were inhabiting, that was already coming into being. That promise from the past was coming into the present and the future. An epiphany is that moment in which we enter that present and future. That future becomes now and that of course is the promise in our second lesson from revelation which is that the nations will walk by the light of God and kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

That light is not merely shining from before time. Although, it is the case that from eternity, God imagined this day and this moment before it came to be and God imagined each person here in this church at this moment with all of your complex identities, with all of the complications in your life, God imagined this day and decided that without each of you, it would be incomplete. And so, you and I are already that past promise has become activated in the future and in the present. And the promise, we have in Revelation is that light will spread.

That light will be shining everywhere and no one will be able to deny it. So, the questions are what will you do to echo in your life the gifts that the Magi gave? The question is what will you do to echo the prior generosity of God? And when I think about that, I think about another moment because over the past week, I also spent a lot of time with my father and I think about one of the moments in which it was probably the best and worst day of his parenting. My father has dementia now and it’s hard for him to hear and it’s hard for him to communicate easily. And so, I find myself when I’m taking care of him, I’m finding myself kind of reeling through in my mind, the things that we have done together.

Because that’s part of the present even if they are not part of his ability to do it now. And one thing that he did was that he had a sponsee in the Alcoholics Anonymous program that he was part of. And this sponsee was named Eddie. And Eddie was trying to get his family together and trying to reestablish trust with his family and the trigger for Eddie had always been for reasons that are complicated, Riverside Amusement Park. The family had these memories and they were sedimented in their lives and it was part of the trauma of living with that disease.

Every time, the family would drive to Riverside Amusement Park which was a third-rate park in Avalon, Massachusetts, Eddie would go to the beer tent and he would start to drink at about 10 in the morning and he would be too drunk to drive home that night. And his kids would be just so embarrassed. They would feel like, they wanted to die. And so, Eddie wanted somehow. He got it into his mind that he could somehow rebuild trust with his family, if he could take them to Riverside Amusement Park and come back sober. And he went to my father and he poured himself out to him and told him that he was afraid that he couldn’t even stay sober for that day.

And my father said, I know, you can stay sober. And to show you that I know, I want you to take my son with you to Riverside Amusement Park. And your job is to bring my son home safely. Of course, my father didn’t tell me that at that time. I was about nine years old. That’s a lot for any child to handle. But Eddie was new in his sobriety and not the most mature man he told me when we were there. He went up to where I was and he said, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You’re keeping me sober today. And I said nothing when I went home.

But it’s a memory that sticks with me as I think about all the things that I’ve had to do with my kids. I’m not sure I could ever do that. And I love people and I have confidence in people and I trust people more than I should some days, but I’m not sure I could ever trust somebody with my child in that way. But I think my father entered into an epiphany moment when he offered me and it turned out he was right to do so. Eddie died a few years sober. He had reconciled with his family and he discovered in some sense that promise of the light that has come into this world through Jesus Christ which shines because of people like you and me being willing to bear witness to it with our hands and our hearts and our lips and our lives.

So, over this Christmas season we are grateful for this opportunity to give thanks for the gifts that the Magi have brought. We are grateful and we ask God to give us grace, to be Magi, to be wise too.