We often spend so much time before Christmas trying to celebrate Christmas, that by the time December 25 rolls around, we’re ready to pack it all in. Except for the fact that December 25 is actually the beginning of Christmas, which continues for twelve days until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany (hence the song with the partridge in a pear tree).
Epiphany is the date for the celebration of the arrival of the magi, who came some time after Jesus was born. During Epiphany, we celebrate when Christ was revealed for the very first time to the rest of the world. Shepherds, of course, were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth, and no doubt other people of the covenant would have encountered him, but this is the first time that Gentiles, outsiders, foreigners, strangers, would encounter the Christ.
And there will be epiphanies throughout Christ's life, little epiphanies. The disciples who responded to Jesus’ call; Saul, who would become Paul; and many more across the years as people have had encounters with the Christ.
So often, we make faith solely a thing of the intellect. Either we think that we have to stop using our minds (lest science or philosophy contradict our faith) or we focus so much on the cognitive aspects of faith that we think it is just about dumping knowledge into our minds. The Heidelberg Catechism (first published in 1563), is one of the foundational documents of our tradition, and begins with declaring that our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong to Christ. It has been used for centures to teach that faith begins, not with understanding, but with belonging. And it moves on from there to knowing “What must I know…” But this knowing is not necessarily a cognitive function, but a deep knowing, a knowing that includes not just our minds but our hearts and our guts.
More often than not, an epiphany begins not with thinking our way into it, but like Elizabeth who encountered Mary and the growing Christ child, it often begins with something leaping in our gut. We are called to be a people who encounter the Divine anew. And who knows where we may encounter the Divine? In whom we may see the Light, in what moment we will encounter the grace of God? When we have our epiphany, that the place on which we are standing may actually be holy ground.
Epiphany is sometimes called the Feast of Light, as it was the Epiphany that brought Light
to the world. There is much darkness in the world. God calls us to bear the light, to shine light, to
be the light. In a world in which there is so much darkness, we can be tempted to hunker down,
keep our heads down, and trudge through trying to ignore it. But it is in these times that we are
called to the opposite. We are called to be shining beacons of light. To reflect the light of Christ
that exists in the world.
And this is why “being the church” is so important. Worshiping together is the center of our being, it is the hinge around which our lives turn, this is why regular—indeed, weekly—gathering and worship is so vital, but that is only the beginning. We remain the church outside of the building, outside of the Divine services. And so my prayer for you, during Christmastide and Epiphanytide is that we might be able to experience the Christ anew, afresh.
See you around the community and in worship!
With deep and abiding love,
The Rev. Matthew J. van Maastricht
Pastor and Teacher