Nollag na mban
Womenís Christmas
Little Christmas

These are my own ideas, you do not have to agree with them.

Thursday 6th January 2022 is the feast of the Epiphany. The day marks the twelfth and final day of the celebration of Christmas. For some people the only significance to the day is that this is the day to dismantle the Christmas tree. In Christianity there are many different elements associated with this particular feast. In the early Christian Church the feast of the epiphany was spread over eight days. In addition to the visit of the Magi, it commemorated the baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan it also commemorated the wedding feast of Cana.
          The Irish name for the day is Nollag na mban or Womenís Christmas. Traditionally the day was meant to be a day of rest for women; the women relaxed, while the men and the children prepared and served a meal. In keeping with how celebrations evolve over time; Nollag na mban is gaining in popularity. But rather than depending on men and children to do the cooking; many women gather to dine out and celebrate in female company.
          In religion the baptism of Jesus and the Wedding feast of Cana have fallen from significance; now the date celebrates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. The word epiphany has different meanings. When used in a general way it means the sudden realisation of a truth or that moment when the solution to a problem suddenly becomes clear.
          In the Christian faith epiphany means the revelation of God the Son, as a human being, in the person of Jesus Christ Ė God became incarnate in the person of Jesus. Epiphany is firmly and deeply rooted in Trinitarian theology. The celebration also has darker somewhat anti Semitic meaning. In the story of the Magi it is the outsiders, the gentiles, who perceive the true nature or divinity of Jesus while Herod the Jew, intends to kill the infant. Herod tries to deceive the Magi and he is willing to inflict slaughter on innocent children in his attempt to destroy the infant Jesus.
          This particular theology does not sit easily with Unitarians as ever we can unpick the theology to find a valuable meaning in the story.
          The most obvious lesson we learn from the story is about following oneís star. The Magi or rightly called wise men searched the sky for many years before they saw the star; when they did see the star they were ready to make that momentous journey. Useful questions we can pose are:- Do I live with the expectation that my life is destined to follow a mundane pattern. Or do I live with the belief that every day reveals something new if I have my eyes open for it. If perchance I happen to see my star beckoning do I accept the challenge or do I allow my star to pass me by?
          Am I prepared to leave my comfort zone to make a different journey? The journey of the wise men was not like a comfortable cruise to an exciting destination. There were times during that journey, when like the Israelites in the desert of Sinai they regretted having left behind the old comfortable ways; where life was easy but utterly predictable and unchallenging.
          When the wise men returned from their journey they were so utterly changed that they felt as strangers in their old lives. Changes in life patterns are part of the fabric of every life. How we accept change determines our perception of happiness.

So I ask how have I allowed change influenced my life.

The story of the visit of the Magi gives rise to many wise questions we can usefully ponder. Addressing these questions will prompt us to living more thoughtful lives. These questions are not the really important ones; they are like woolly New Year resolutions. You know the fleeting thoughts that comes after too much pudding and too many chocolates you think ďIn the New Year I will eat more healthily and get more exerciseĒ there is no real substance there. Sticking with the easy points is opting out of the real issue.
          The kernel of Epiphany is that God took human form in the person of Jesus; Epiphany is that Jesus was born to die as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity for my sins. The life and death of Jesus was the culmination of a Godís plan to redeem humanity after their fall into sin in the Garden of Eden.
          This theology says that throughout history God directly intervened in human affairs. Do we believe that at one time God directly intervened in the world; do we believe that God still intervenes in human affairs.
          Examples of Godís interventions are that God spoke directly to Moses from a burning bush, that God send ten plagues to the land of Egypt and miraculously ensured the safety of the people of Israel as they walked through the Dead Sea and in the process destroying a large part of the Egyptian army.
          Godís intervention in human affairs calls into question the nature of God. We are taught that God is goodness, God is just, all powerful and merciful. Godís mercy ensured the redemption of humanity; that redemption was bought through the suffering of Jesus on the cross. In this version of Godís nature it appears that love and mercy are in conflict with Godís sense of Justice and retribution.
          The Bible is filled with tales of the extraordinary interventions by God in the affairs of humanity. We may ask if God is so involved in the world; why God has been so silent over the past two thousand years. Why does the God of Justice permit injustice to flourish perennially through the ages. I believe that there is no evidence that God intervenes directly in the world; I question the literal truth of the accounts of Godís intervention in the world throughout history.
          The reformation placed the Bible as the centre of authority in the Christian faith. I believe that Bible stories are to be read as metaphor and symbol. Unitarians the right when we re- interpret the stories. It is to be expected that sometimes the stories have outlived their usefulness. The Bible is the history of the Jewish nation; it is in part the story of the Jewish search for their understanding of God. The Bible says that humanity is made in the image of God; there is a quip says that ďhumanity was quick to repay that complimentĒ and this is how it must me. God is the great unknown; but an unknown that draws humanity to it like a strong magnet.
          Ideas about and images of God are just that; human ideas and human imaginings. Ideas of God develop over time in response to human discoveries and knowledge of our universe; the images and symbols change. God is not found in a book no matter how exalted that book is. God is impossible to define by theology. When the council of Nicea proclaimed the divinity of Jesus; this was stating a belief that was fairly commonly held at the time. The Greek Gods of Olympia often fell in love with humans beings; the children of God and mortals had the attributes of the God parent. Some of these offspring went on to become Gods themselves. If the Council of Nicea were to reconvene today I think Ariusí belief that the nature of Jesus was human would prevail.
          In Western Monotheistic Religions God is attributed with all virtues. Truth, Justice, Goodness are some of the virtues attributed to God. In the Hindu faith God is sometimes portrayed in Trinitarian terms. The Hindu trinity names the facets of God as God the Creator, God the Sustainer, and God the Destroyer. I think this is a truer image of what God may be.
          If we accept that human nature is an image or a reflection of Godís nature; then an image of God at as being creator, Sustainer and destroyer is a more accurate reflection of life. We humans have the capacity for extraordinary goodness and we have an exceptional capacity to be destructive. We can and do destroy ourselves, we can and do inflict pain and destruction on one another. We can and do nourish the earth and we can and do destroy it. Yet no matter how destructively we behave; something we can call it conscience will always call us to task. The urge to be creative and sustaining is also strong within humanity.
          The Native Americans tell a story that demonstrates the conflict between good and evil. A young man spoke to his grandfather about feeling pulled between good and evil. He said he felt as if there were two dogs fighting for control of him. One dog was kindly the other dog was vicious and destructive. The young man wondered which dog would ultimately gain control. The old man told him that everyone felt these conflicting pulls and that whichever dog he fed most would become stronger and so be the victor.
          When we live a reflective life, aware of our nature and the pulls within that nature we are feeding the kindly dog. Following a religious faith can also feed the kindly dog; we must be careful that we never follow a faith blindly. Religions can and do incite their followers to hating others.
          Returning to the story of the journey of the Magi; at the journeyís end the wise men found an infant. A child exactly like every other child; they recognised the divinity within the child; remember this divinity is within each one of us. God is not found in burning bushes or in pillars of smoke God is found in the quiet and simle things of life. God is most easily found in nature, in a star studded night sky and of course in one another.

Rev.Bridget Spain
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church