Unexpecting the expected
Epiphany is the season of light breaking into the life of the world. It is the time during which we reflect on what happened to Jesus after his birth and before his more public ministry, including such “mundane events” as his baptism and the first public manifestation of power at the wedding of Cana.
The season starts as the Christmas season comes to a close. It ends as we begin our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday. Epiphany ties together symbolically the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly activity.
As I thought about the connections between the two most well-known Christian holidays — Christmas and Easter — I remembered a poem that my dad, John Hulteen, wrote many years ago. Titled “The Least of These,” the poem explores a deep Christian understanding that shares the perspective of Mary’s Magnificat — that mighty things may be brought down, and things of low degree may be made manifest.
So, in this “in between” time, I share with you “The Least of These,” hoping it shines light into any darkness you are experiencing.
The Least of These
Near Bethlehem, by a sprawling hill
where sheep and shepherd trod,
A grove of trees was growing
in the hard and rocky sod.
A lowly scrubby cedar grew
on a rocky, hilly crest.
Almost alone it struggled
shunned, it seemed, by all the rest.
Further down along the slope
a majestic aspen grew.
With trunk so straight and limb so strong
and leaves with sunshine hue.
The cedar’s limbs were gnarled and bent
in an ugly twisted way.
The aspen, on the other hand,
grew more beautiful each day.
Was thus perchance a farmer came
from Bethlehem nearby,
to cut a pole to fix his barn;
the cedar caught his eye.
“Why cut a great magnificent tree
to fix a broken manger,”
The farmer said, as he swung his axe.
The cedar fell to the stranger.
Some time has passed, as time will do
and then one winter’s night,
Mary and Joseph came to sleep
in this stable void of light.
The aspen, so the story goes,
in spiteful hatred grew.
“I am the greatest tree on earth,”
it said, each day anew.
The aspen grew and flourished
for thirty years or more,
And then it fell to Caesar’s axe.
From its boughs no eagles soar.
Time in centuries soon would pass.
The trees now gone — no loss.
The lowly cedar became a crib.
And the aspen became the cross.