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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Epiphany! Manifestation of God | January 8, 2023 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton

O noblest green viridity

O noblest green viridity,

you're rooted in the sun

and in the clear

bright calm

you shine within a wheel

no earthly excellence

can comprehend:

You are surrounded by

the embraces of the service,

the ministries divine.

As morning’s dawn you blush,

as sunny flame you burn.

The opening music comes from Saint Hildegard of Bingen, twelfth century mystic, prophet, musician, scientist and artist. I was drawn to this particular song because of the title, O noblest green viridity. The lyrics to this song describe the veriditas or greening that is rooted in the sun and spins within the wheel of life. It is surrounded by the embraces of service and burns like a sunny flame! I’d like to also note the illumination that accompanies the recording. It is entitled, The Man in Sapphire Blue. This “man” represents, I think, compassion…the compassion of God and perhaps the compassion of Jesus…the manifestation of God on Earth. With outstretched, healing hands awash with the healing power of water and the binding “rope” encompassing the “unity” of creation, this illumination may indeed speak to the Epiphany…the setting out of the three “magi” to witness the birth of Jesus. The expansion of the message…the good news of “God with us” in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem.

After last week’s sermon from Dr. Dorsey Blake considering the divinity/humanity of Jesus, I was led by this music and by the illumination to a question posed to me by my father several years before his death. He came to me as one who should know something about Jesus and asked, “What is the importance of Jesus in religion”. My father attended church his entire life. His mother was brought up in the Congregationalist Church, as was the norm, I think, for Welsh immigrants in the Northeast, but my father attended the Episcopal Church all of his life. I am not sure about my grandfather, but both sets of grandparents were married in the same Congregationalist Church in Utica, New York.

I was never able to adequately answer my father’s question and this haunts me to this day. I wonder if it is too late to try to formulate an answer? Dr. Blake’s sermon inspired me to try.

I think what I might have told my father is that Jesus is a special manifestation of the divine…just as he was…just as each one of us has the potential to be. We are children of God…just like Jesus. We are given the opportunity, each moment of each day to manifest God. Jesus can, however, provide a very special comfort. I think this is what I would have my father hear and experience. But when I think about it, I think my father knew this. This was his favorite recording of his favorite song.

And here is what is thought to be the original recording from 1941.

If each of us believed that we were children of God…made from the same greening branch as Jesus was described in Isaiah 11:1-2.

From the stump of Jesse a shoot shall rise, and a scion from his roots shall flourish; on him shall rest the spirit of the Eternal, the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit that knows and reverences the Eternal.

I notice the word “scion” was used in this translation (Moffatt version). Many may consider this as a reference to the “heir” or “descendant” of Jesse, but this word also means a green shoot that has been grafted onto a stem…a greening viridity, in Hildegard’s words. This is the hope that Job spoke of…

There is the hope for a tree that is felled; if may flourish yet again, the shoots of it need not fail; though its root decays in the soil, though its stump is dead in the ground, it may bud at the scent of water, and put out boughs like a plant. (Job 14:1-9, Moffatt version)

The new boughs budding even the scent of water…this is the wonder of the story of Jesus’ birth. The manifestation of our divinity through the birth of an actual human being…one with whom we can share our human characteristics and one whom we can emulate in our earthly sojourn…one with the possibility of rebirth with the rising of the sun…the place where our own growth occurs…the growing edge.

I’m not sure if any of my musings would begin to explain to my father the significance of Jesus. Words are so limiting. But I think this idea of the “growing edge of hope”…the “Presence that no single event or experience can possibly exhaust” would be a good place to start. The words of Howard Thurman enter my mind…

All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born;

All around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree;

The roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth

Against the time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.

Such is the growing edge!

This growing edge is the rod of Jesse spoken of in the Bible…the viriditas spoken of by Hildegard. It is the power of nature that, rooted in the sun, shines within a wheel, surrounded by ministries mysterious and divine, burning as a sunny flame that can renew our spirits. That is it!

I’d like to end with a song by Sam Cooke…yet another manifestation of God on earth. I wonder if my father knew this song? If not, maybe he can hear it now!

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