Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Epiphany! It's Your Holy Day!

Dear Friends,

Today, January 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany! In ancient times, “Epiphany” in the earliest church celebrated Christ’s birth, His revelation to the Gentiles and His baptism. Then much later, in the fourth century, “Christmas” was established on December 25th by the Western Church. Too many of us Protestants are quick to discard church traditions established before the Reformation, but we must remember that the first 1,500 years of Christian history and tradition belong to us too. And that’s why, perhaps for us Gentiles (meaning those of us who are not Jews), Epiphany could be considered even more important than Christmas. 

Epiphany means “revealed” and the church today celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the first Gentiles –the Magi. We celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas. God incarnate. The Jewish Messiah came to save the Jews. But Epiphany marks that moment in history two years later Matt 2:16 when Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles. Perhaps Jews should be celebrating Christmas Day and the Gentiles should be celebrating the Epiphany! 

For the Magi, this was a journey of worship. The Magi (wise men) were led by a brilliant star in the sky Matt 2:1-2 and today, wise men and wise women are still led on a worshipful journey to Him by the Holy Spirit. But like King Herod, 2000 years ago, Matt 2:3 some people are still threatened or offended by Jesus. Mankind has not changed since the birth of Christ. Too many people celebrate Christmas and even come to church on Christmas and then turn away from Jesus as soon as He gets in their way. We all adore Him in the manger. The Child in the manger is safe and non-threatening. Even for atheists and unbelievers at Christmas time, the baby Jesus is tolerated as a cute and harmless bit of symbolism for the love that we all need to have for each other.

The problem is when He climbs out of the manger and gets into our lives. That’s when He gets dangerous. Jesus interferes with our selfish and sinful ambitions. He upsets our attitude of entitlement which demands that we can do whatever we want. The Gospel message confronts while the Holy Spirit convicts. Our worldly culture celebrates hedonistic sin while the politically-incorrect Word of God requires that we repent of those sins. The Word of God even contains the highly offensive and socially intolerant message that there is no other way to be reconciled to God other than through His Son Jesus Christ. John 14:6 Jesus threatens both a secular mind-set and an insipid Christianity!

Christmas day is done when the tree comes down and we pack up the Nativity scene with the cute baby Jesus and put Him away for another year. But the problem with Jesus is that He doesn’t stay in the safe place where we put Him. Jesus doesn’t stay asleep in the manger. He grew up and led a rebellion against religiosity. He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free. He came not for the wealthy and comfortable but for the oppressed and marginalized. Luke 4:16-21 And then He died on the cross for our sins. 

And now the world is confronted with the radically unsafe truth of Jesus. That we must repent and believe. And some people react with hatred and hostility. That’s because the Son of God’s very presence on the earth was, and is still, a condemnation to sinful lifestyles and behaviors. That’s why we see this intense animosity toward Jesus and His followers manifesting today in the politically progressive liberal movement as churches are set on fire and statues of Jesus are destroyed. This past year we’ve seen not just a war on Christmas but a war on Christians. And how is this all going to turn out? You know how it ends! Jesus is coming back and there will be a time when.. every knee will bow.. and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father in heaven.” Phil 2:9-11 

If Christians are by definition “those who follow Jesus,” then the Magi were the first “Christians.” Pursuing Jesus took time and effort for them – it was a long and strenuous journey that took nearly two years. Following Jesus is not easy. Some churches teach an undemanding Christianity that Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemned as “cheap grace.” But the Christian faith is a hard and difficult journey when you are following the Son of God who loves you too much to allow you to remain comfortable and complacent in your sin. And when you answer the call to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost to your comfort, then like the wise men, it will be the greatest and most incredible journey you’ll ever take. It’s a journey of worship, but we don’t offer our worship to get something from God. The wise men traveled for years not to get something from Jesus but to give Him something. We too come before God, not to get something from Him, but to give Him something – our worship. And in God’s grace and mercy He gives us His Son. 

Christmas is when we gaze adoringly at the Baby in the manger. Epiphany is when God reaches down to pick up the Christ-child and hands Him to us.

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