It’s mid January, but my house looks like Christmas is just around the corner. The bureau in my front room is covered with a porcelain re-creation of the birth of Christ. Nativities appear in almost every room. At the end of my driveway, antiqued copper statues of this ancient vigil stand in silent witness. Shepherds kneel, Wise Men behold, Joseph protects, Mary ponders, and Jesus gleams. O Holy Night continues to shine throughout the house.

Epiphany texts follow Jesus walking and preaching along the shores of Galilee. I’m still standing in Bethlehem, dwelling in the echo of the angels’, “Rejoice!” Heaven’s address continues to resound.

I think about how the word meets each person where they are. Gabriel comes to Mary’s home in Nazareth with the word “Rejoice!” In the depths of sleep, Joseph meets an angelic messenger. Glory shines all around while shepherds watch their flocks. A star glistens into the homelands of the Wise Men, leading them to the birth of the King who will rule over all. Herod, the king of Israel, sees no angel, has no dream, sees no glory, and does not recognize the star. He hears the good news of great joy from this wise group of Gentile stargazers.

“Rejoice!” breaks into the life of each person with terrifying wonder. Often the word, “Do not fear” accompanies this good news of great joy. “Rejoice!” comes with joy and terror intertwined.

“Rejoice!” sounds an alarm, calling the slumbering soul to action. Wake up!

Makes me think of a poem by Rumi.
I called through your door, “The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!”
“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”
“I don’t care if you’re dead!’
“Jesus is here,
and he wants to
resurrect somebody!”
-Rumi [1]

“Rejoice!” comes as a sudden surprise, altering everything. Those who follow can’t go back. As Bob Dylan sings, You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.”[2] Mary and Joseph can’t come back. They begin a journey that takes them far from the comfort of the Nazareth. The wise man cannot return by the same way, but must go another way.

T.S. Eliot wonders if they ever really could return home:

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.” [3]

“Rejoice!” changes the language. The ancient Hebrew address “Shalom!” becomes “Rejoice!” The long-awaited One has come and everything is different. Words change. Worlds change. Kings and kingdoms topple.

“Rejoice!” is not simply a call to behold life, it is a call to enter death. The echo sounds like “Repent.” The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Let go of the old world, the old dispensation and walk forward into the Kingdom of God.

The Nativity continues to hold my attention even as I read about Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, and proclaiming the Kingdom Come. This juxtaposition reminds me that the unbelievable Good News of God coming comes to each of us, where we are, in words and signs that we can hear, compelling us to behold our Savior and “Rejoice!

[1] Coleman Barks (translator), Jalal al-Din Rumi. The Essential Rumi – reissue: New Expanded Edition (Kindle Locations 3318-3319). HarperOne, Kindle Edition, 2010.
[2] Bob Dylan. “Mississippi.” From Love and Theft, 1997.
[3] T.S. Eliot. “The Journey of the Magi.” from Collected Poems 1909-1962 (Faber, 1974)