The weeks after Christmas always strike me as a time of exhaling. All the joyful chaos of the Season has left us a little spent and we need rest. Traditionally, the season after Christmas is a time of quiet and reflection as well; a time to consider how the Christmas event claims us as a people of faith. After our lives and our souls have quieted some and we have claimed for ourselves a moment or two of peace and stillness, it is important to reflect upon how this strange event claims us.
This ‘church’ season is called Epiphany. It is the day and season commemorating the visitation of the Magi, who bring with them gifts befitting a newborn king. It is also the church festival that celebrates the revelation of Christ to the world beyond the borders of Israel, symbolized in these Persian astrologers, or whatever they may have been, who traveled miles to bear witness to the Good News. And then go and bear this Good News back into the world.
Their travels beg a couple of questions: first, what is the content of this Good News; and second, how exactly do we carry it into the world?
It is worth considering that the Good News very often lives in tension with bad news. Sometimes very bad news, indeed. Before he could walk, Jesus and his family were forced to flee from their home to avoid the murderous rage of King Herod, maddened by the possibility of a threat to his power.
Our Savior began life in a stable and soon found himself a refugee in Egypt, in search of sanctuary.
The theologian Douglas John Hall writes of the gospel that it gained a foot- hold because it ‘proclaimed a message that awakened women and men to possibilities for human life that they had either lost or never entertained.’
The earliest Christian communities were less concerned with numbers and more with proclaiming the story of Jesus as gospel, as good news that has the capacity to transform the world for the better. They preached and practiced a faith that sought new ways of welcoming people the rest of the world saw as unworthy of welcome: the poor, the infirm and crippled, slaves and women. They formed new communities out of people forbidden by their older traditions from sharing worship together; or even from sharing a simple meal with one another.
For the early church, the content of the gospel was simply to honor the dignity and aspirations of each person, irrespective of their status, wealth or position.
And as they grew in numbers, they imagined new ways of inviting people to be a part of their communities. Not merely content with conforming to older ways of doing things, they grew inventive in their worship, in their service, in their public witness.
While many of us savor Epiphany as a season of quiet and rest after the tumult of Christmas, it remains a fitting and appropriate for us to be considering questions of rebirth and renewal. Even as the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall, the light and warmth begins to return to our world.
So it remains a good time, an appropriate season to consider the new ways in which God will be calling us to proclaim good news in the new year.
May the blessings of God continue to enrich each of you and all of us at First Congregational Church in the coming year.