It’s been a busy day for a hand in recovery–a lot of baking (which means chopping, grating lemon zest, squeezing said lemons), getting ready for a family gathering tomorrow. Perhaps I should not be typing, but earlier today I posted the following status update on Facebook:
Sometimes I think I bake so I can have an excuse to lick the beaters.
A friend commented that he thought it had sermon potential. I’m not sure it does, but it does have some “midpoint between Christmas and Epiphany blogging” potential, and thus, I write.
Licking the beaters (please, it’s a good idea to stop the mixer before you try this) is an especially appropriate activity for the sixth day of Christmas. Halfway between the very private event of Mary’s giving birth to Jesus, surrounded by very few people in humble circumstances, and the day the wise men arrive to take the news of the Savior’s birth public.
Licking batter is an interim activity. The intended product is unfinished, and it can’t go public as batter (you couldn’t give this stuff away at a bake sale). Unless you’re eating an entire cake’s worth of batter, there isn’t much left–it’s gone to the oven to turn into what it is meant to be. Only a very small number of people can consume the batter, and it has to be done quickly or the batter turns to a hard, unappetizing, useless mess. If you can share the batter-licking activity with anyone, it is only with those who happen to be immediately present–usually, only closest family or friends (if you happen to bake with friends). It’s something you do while you’re waiting for the real stuff to be ready, so you can share it with people who are outside your most immediate circle of intimates. Batter has no shelf life, and it’s hard to incorporate batter into a more complete menu. It either has to be consumed as soon as it is made, or baked into something that can last a little longer, to share with a wider circle of people, as part of a nourishing and satisfying meal.
The day that the magi are halfway to Bethlehem seems a good time not only to lick the beaters, but to reflect on the activity while we wait for the real stuff to be ready.
Because Christmas isn’t the real deal–Epiphany is. Epiphany is what the church exists for, the ability to make public proclamation about God taking on human existence and living and dying among us, as one of us. Just like you need the batter first, but it isn’t the cake, you have to have Christmas first, but Epiphany is the goal. Epiphany is what can be shared.
But in the Christian life, we emphasize the batter, and the cake is almost an afterthought–we make a big deal about Christmas, and Epiphany gets short shrift. We hold extra services, make costumes for pageants, schedule extra rehearsals for the choir and practice liturgies (which, honestly, aren’t that different from every Sunday liturgy of the year). And then by lunchtime on the 25th of December, we put our feet up, eat too much, and exchange gifts amongst our closest family and friends. We ask each other if we had a nice Christmas, but by the time Epiphany rolls around, we’re back to work, and all the good stuff is in the past.
Why do people who are commanded by the one they call Lord and Savior to “go into all the world” focus so much of their attention on the private, not-ready-for-public-consumption aspect of the story, and make very little hoopla about the point where it becomes possible to do that going-out? Why do we not celebrate the wise men who were the first who could give intelligent articulation to the breaking-in of God’s reign to a wider culture than just the children of Israel?
Licking batter is fine, but the main event is really the cake that we could bring to a party and share with people who weren’t there during the process of making it. Christmas is fine, but the main event is really the ability to think clearly and sensitively about what that story means.
Without Epiphany, Christmas is not even half-baked. Epiphany is the celebratory cake that nourishes us to carry out the commission of bringing the message of God’s love for the world to those outside of our immediate circle, in a way that has at least a slightly longer shelf-life than the unbaked batter of Christmas.