We have seen his star in the East, and we have come to worship him.Matthew 2:2
Dear Friends in Christ,
Do you ever wonder about hot debates from the mid-300’s? Or what Tiffany has to do with Jesus? Please read on, even if you don’t wonder! Because the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6th, Epiphany, is all about these questions, and they are relevant still. Briefly, the question that came to the fore about Three Kings Day, or Theophania — Epiphany, is simple: did folks understand who Jesus was at his birth, at his baptism, or at a famous wedding? Let me explain.
Epiphany is not only a concept or a wondrous, insightful event, but also what was one of the three biggest Christian holidays in the fourth century (and beyond). But there was an argument about the meaning of the holiday, too. Frankly, there still is. Epiphany means “manifestation,” and theophania means “God is visible or present,” and everyone wanted to celebrate this, but folks couldn’t agree when Jesus was those things. For the Magi, it was at his cradle. They thought he was divine then. But in the Gospels, it’s not clear that he’s special until God speaks (and many hear) at Jesus’ baptism. Meanwhile, in John, it is only when Jesus turns water into wine that the crowds begin to realize he is special. So 1700 years ago they argued. And then agreed that Epiphany could mean more than one thing.
As we begin 2024 I pray that we can recognize God’s presence in something as vulnerable as an infant, born in a manger, or forced to be a refugee amidst a dangerous empire. I pray that our baptisms and times of worship open us to hear God when we make promises and touch holy things. And I pray that God is visible to us when we change the common water to something mysterious and even intoxicating, in the best sense of that word.
That is, I pray we can see God in many places that are tender in need of care, that are radical and invite our following, and that are transformational and to be celebrated. I pray we see God in our neighbor, in our convictions, and in our actions, such as changing mission dollars into Heifers or housing or other forms of hope. God is more than one thing every day.
I pray that this whole season of Epiphany we do have a sense of wonder, an openness to how a single star can inspire us, and a clear commitment to the truth that whenever people recognize Jesus is special it changes our lives and directions and actions. Because our faith is much more than a concept. And our God is much more than a distant flash of light. And we need light this January all around Newton and all across our world. Ideally everyone can agree on that.
Oh, the bit about Tiffany? It is the female form of the Greek, theophania. So when you see a store or a person with this name, it means the appearance or manifestation of our God. Although it’s hard to find that in a store, or a person, other than Jesus, but that’s another argument.
I look forward to celebrating the season of Epiphany in worship and action together.