Most pastors have heard Fred Craddock’s phrase, “almost Bible.” He coined it after learning early in his ministry that some things people believe to be in the Bible just aren’t there. Craddock’s favorite example is the three wise men, heralded in hymn and Hallmark card across the years, but missing from Matthew. The Evangelist mentions three gifts, but leaves the number of the Magi mysterious. That number three? Almost Bible. Add a fourth wise person next time you plan a children’s Christmas pageant and you can be sure everyone will read Matthew’s text afresh.
This time between Epiphany and Lent might be called "almost ordinary." We’ve gotten the Magi (choose your number) to the Birth, the heavenly host have retreated from the skies above Bethlehem, Jesus has grown up and been baptized, and there are four weeks until Ash Wednesday. After all the excitement of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, we’re dropped into “ordinary” time.
The word ordinary has come to mean commonplace or mundane. But when it comes to the Christian Year, “ordinary” means designated by ordinal number: first, second, third, fifteenth. The numbering reminds us of the purposeful movement of history toward God’s cherished End.
There’s certainly nothing ordinary about God being among God’s people, moving with them toward the New Jerusalem.
There’s also nothing ordinary about the pastoral vocation this time of year, especially the important ministry of self-care. It is grace that endows Christian time with purpose and direction, and gives the pastor opportunity to preach and teach this in the midst of winter’s cold and grey. Likewise, it is grace, well-received, that enables the pastor to care for herself so that she might, in turn, care for others.
Where in this space between Epiphany and Lent – with its attendant denominational responsibilities, church committee meetings, journey with challenging confirmands – is the grand sweep of grace that is moving you along in your own journey?
Where, amidst all the shades of grey, is the Light which the darkness cannot extinguish?
Sometimes these are found in unlikely places, as the Wise Ones discovered when the star stopped in Bethlehem.
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity
Flickr/Michael McCarty