Epiphany of the Lord

Star of Bethlehem by Elihu Vedder — oil on canvas, approximately 36 x 45 inches, 1879-80. Image by Milwaukee Art Museum.

January 6, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Isaiah 60:1-6 • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 • Ephesians 3:1-12 • Matthew 2:1-12

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Image description: A realistic depiction of a vast landscape and sky. The foreground is desert, but in the distance are olive trees and a lush valley at the foot of a mountain range. The village of Bethlehem sits atop a darkened hill just beyond the grove of trees. From a break in the clouds near the upper edge of the paintings shines the light of the star in expanding rays. The center ray ends at Bethlehem on the hill. The wise men (riding camels) and two small groups of travelers gaze at the bright star a few have their arms raised toward the sky in gestures of amazement. Just below the star burst is a second bank of clouds upon which the forms of heavenly figures can be seen. These appear to be looking down at Bethlehem below.

See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth; people all over are cloaked in darkness. But God will rise and shine on you; the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see. Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light, will find purpose and direction by your light. In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations. — Isaiah 60:2-3

May good and honest people flourish for as long as he reigns, and may peace fill the land until the moon no longer rises. Let the kings of Tarshish and the island kings shower him with gifts and the kings of Sheba and Seba bring him presents as well. — Psalm 72:7,10

I am privileged to enlighten all of Adam’s descendants to the mystery concealed from previous ages by God, the Creator of all, through Jesus the Anointed. Here’s His objective: through the church, He intends now to make known His infinite and boundless wisdom to all rulers and authorities in heavenly realms. This has been His plan from the beginning, one that He has now accomplished through the Anointed One, Jesus our Lord. — Ephesians 3:9-10

The wise men left Herod’s chambers and went on their way. The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay. — Matthew 2:9-10

I have selected verses from each of the Lectionary texts to include with this image for it so wonderfully embodies a vision for each of these passages. It was such a delight to stumble upon this piece of art so perfect for Epiphany. It was also wonderful to discover a new American painter and one who indulged in illustrating that which is beyond our human site. Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) studied and received solid training in painting both stateside and abroad in Italy. His work is a fusion between the earthly realm and the realm of the spiritual (imagination, dreams, fantasy) as we see here in Star of Bethlehem. Vedder himself explains his artistic tendencies:

I have read much… and have thought much, and so it comes that I take short flights or wade out into the sea of mystery which surrounds us, but soon getting beyond my depth, return, I must confess with a sense of relief, to the solid ground of common sense; and yet it delights me to tamper and potter with the unknowable, and I have a strong tendency to see in things more than meets the eye … There is another thing – the ease with which I can conjure up visions. — Elihu Vedder

As I sat this week reading over the lectionary texts for both Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord I experienced a moment of overwhelm. A joy surged through me as I marveled over the two art pieces I had selected for these occasions and just how wonderfully they brought the Scriptures alive for me. There were some tears at that moment. As a child, this was something denied me. The church I grew up in held the belief that all artistic expressions relating to Scripture, Christ, God were idolatry. Our sanctuary displayed no cross and our Sunday school material no illustrations. To have been led here by the nudging of the Spirit to this juncture is such an immense blessing to me. I recognize the healing it is for me to actively seek out every week the work of faithful artists — those from around the world who have given vision to all that God has revealed to us. These thoughts are my own small epiphany this week.

I am honored if you are reading this and are participating in this journey — thank you and thanks be to God.

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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