“……In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking ‘where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?
For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”
(Matthew 2: 1-3)
Epiphany – God’s Manifest Destiny
Epiphany (January 6th) continues to be one of my very favorite Christian festivals. Perhaps it is because as the 12th day of Christmas, it encourages us to recall “the reason for the season” after the commercial ‘hoopla’ that began after Halloween, is over. Perhaps it is simply due to the fact that in Latin American culture, January 6th is celebrated as the birth of Christ and is called “El Dia de los Reyes” – or “The Day of the Three Kings.” When I was a child, my parents shared how they would wait with anticipation for their one new toy on the morning of this day. I could not help but notice that there seemed to be a less culturally-driven significance to this day. There was a simplicity that was both touching and powerful that began taking root in my discipleship growth and journey.
Years ago, Edward and I began a tradition of having an Open House at our home to celebrate “Epiphany.” It’s a tradition we hope to reclaim again. We invited friends of all traditions and faiths. I became aware that for many, there was no particular significance to the day, not to mention – the word. Now the word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word that means ‘manifestation.’ Hence, Epiphany celebrates the ways in which God reveals or manifests the plans he has for the salvation of humanity. These ways are celebrated and revealed in three significant moments in our Christian heritage – the birth of the infant Jesus, the visit of the three wise men, and the baptism of Jesus. These three events manifest the mission and divinity of Christ to all those who would have eyes to see or ears to hear.
I am reminded that even today – as we celebrate these profoundly powerful moments, there are forces present that would compromise God’s manifest destiny for humanity. Consider the birth of the infant child – the coldness of the world was not welcoming to his parents as they sought refuge from the elements of nature and their human exhaustion. How often do we, the Church of Jesus Christ today, become “cold,” unwilling to make room for the stranger in our midst? So as we begin this new year together, in all our various ministries, may our hearts be open to the strangers near and far. May our lives be like the manger – allowing the Word incarnate to rest upon us.
Consider also the journey of the wise men, as they followed the star to the place where Jesus was. It is not hard to imagine the face of Herod as he plots to kill any child that might threaten his status-quo. Although we would not see ourselves as trying to physically kill Jesus, there are times however when we resist the ways of Jesus by protecting our “status quo.” This resistance is commonly seen in our churches when faced with tough disagreements and ‘irreconcilable differences’ over worship styles, over ministry turf, over theological interpretation. We are tempted to resist anything or anyone that might shake the ground upon which we stand. Frankly, we often wish the disappearance or elimination of those with whom we disagree – life would be so much easier then. So as we begin this new year, may our hearts be open to God’s “earth-shaking” hopes for our lives; may we boldly be defined by more than the status quo of our human identity.
Consider finally, the leadership of John the Baptist. Many were hopeful that he was the Messiah and not ’simply’ the one called by God to “prepare the way.” The temptation to want the person with whom we are familiar to be our messianic presence, was as common then as it is today. In this celebrity-driven culture, how often do we as leaders become enamored with a particular person or leader? We become tempted to believe that God only speaks through that person – there couldn’t possibly be another faithful leader. We forget God has been and will always be faithful, even after a beloved leader moves on. And yet even more dangerous – how often do we allow ourselves to believe that we are “that messianic presence?” How often do we encourage people to have an unhealthy “celebrity-like” relationship to us, forgetting, albeit for a little while, that we are “God’s vessels” – called to “prepare the way” for the one Messiah? And so, as we begin this new year, may we lead humbly, remembering always that we have been called to “prepare the way.”
My companions on the journey – it is precisely in the midst of God’s manifest destiny of deliverance and hope to the world; in the midst of God’s light breaking into the darkness through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are reminded that the powers of darkness continue to close in on the light. This was true 2,000 years ago; it is true today. But as John says in 1:5 – “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And it is precisely in this place – between the powerful light of God that manifests itself to the world and the reality of the darkness of sin and brokenness around us – that you and I are called to serve.
May we do so with faithfulness to the Messiah. May we do so with a commitment to making the light of God relevant to the people in the Presbytery of Philadelphia and beyond. May we do so boldly and together!