The Epiphany, 2016

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The Epiphany, 2016

Sermon Date:January 6, 2016

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6

Liturgy Calendar: The Epiphany


Gilber Kaplan conducts the New York Philharmonic in 2008

PDF version

“Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.”

To see and to be radiant: to thrill and rejoice.

Chances are that to every human being comes at some point in life the experience of sheer ecstasy, the experience of seeing and being filled with light, the heart thudding with a joy that strains to burst right out of the body. To experience this sort of joy is the human being’s deepest longing.

People find these ecstatic experiences in ways unique to them. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Marie Kondo, of decluttering fame, has just released a new book which tells us how to spark joy by bringing order into our lives when we declutter.

In this month’s St Peter’s newsletter, Alex Long talks about the joy he has found in running.

Because I often find this sort of heart thudding, gut wrenching joy in music, I was particularly fascinated by the story of Gilbert Kaplan, who started out as economist and created the financial publication Institutional Investor. But his success in business was not the reason that Kaplan’s obituary took up almost an entire page in The Washington Post yesterday.

(Mahler symphony put him ‘in orbit’ by Emily Langer, in Metro, January 5, 2016)

In Kaplan’s obituary, writer Emily Langer tells about Kaplan’s run-in with sheer, heart thudding joy when he heard Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony for the first time.

One day in 1965, while still “toiling on Wall Street, “ he and a friend went to Carnegie Hall and heard a rehearsal of Mahler’s Second Symphony.

Langer describes this symphony as “a monument of 19th century music, a sprawling work of five movements requiring an orchestra of 100, a choir of up to 200, and two soloists. Running as long as 90 minutes in performance, it leads the listener on a transcendent exploration of the meaning of life and death.”

Kaplan’s reaction to hearing the symphony was this.

“Zeus threw out the bolt of lightning. I walked out of that hall a different person….There’s been nothing that put me in orbit the way this did.”

He “dove into an all-consuming study of the composition and woke up on the cusp of his 40th birthday…fixated on the notion that he must conduct it—the only way, he thought ‘to unlock the mystery.’”

So began an incredible journey into joy.

Kaplan hired a conductor to help him study the work for nine hours a day for a month. He flew to cities all over the world to hear various performances of the symphony. He met with various conductors who had conducted the symphony.

By 1982, Kaplan was ready to conduct the Second Symphony. He hired the American Symphony Orchestra and on the 25th anniversary of his publication, the Institutional Investor, he conducted the symphony at the Lincoln Center.

A music critic in the audience wrote after the performance that “the performance had been ‘one of the five or six most profoundly realized Mahler Second” in the previous 25 years. Even those attendees not schooled in music seemed to recognize that they had witnessed something remarkable. “

Kaplan said of the performance, ‘ I had the feeling that people in the audience were urging me to fulfill my dream because each of them had a secret ambition…They were up with me that night, playing baseball for the Yankees, writing the book they never wrote, getting the girl they never got.”

Kaplan “became s sought-after scholar and conductor of Mahler, although, with few exceptions, he limited his conducting engagements to the Resurrection.”

Kaplan never took money for his work. He described himself as “an amateur in the best sense of the word.” He could barely read music apart from the 2 nd Symphony.

“’I didn’t set out to do it because I had some grandiose ambition to be a conductor,’ he once told an Australian newspaper. ‘I did it because I wanted to get inside the music…There’s a real explanation of life and death in that music and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.’ ”

The message of The Epiphany, the realization that God is in our midst, is, for Christians, this overwhelming breathtaking joy, the news that makes our hearts thrill and rejoice, God’s gift of grace that makes us radiant. I’m reminded of the Moravian hymn that begins with these words—“Jesus makes my heart rejoice.”

This is the joy within which all other joys in our lives rest. God in our midst going before us, undergirding us, following us, enfolds us in sheer joy, and takes us on journeys beyond our imagining.

This news is that “thunderbolt from Zeus,” to borrow Kaplan’s words.

The gift to us, and the challenge to us for this season, is to open our hearts to this joy and to undertake the incredible journey of entering into this joy, to embrace the grace of God’s presence enfolding us, and to absorb that joy and to become the living breathing embodiments of light, love and radiance that is God dwelling not only in our midst, but in each one of us—God dwelling in us—our hearts’ deepest longing—so that we can truly see and be radiant, so that every atom of our beings can thrill and rejoice.

Amen.

Resource: (Gilbert E. Kaplan, 74: ‘Mahler symphony put him ‘in orbit’ by Emily Langer, in Metro, pg B6, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016)

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