Lord may your light shine through me, in the words that I have to share and stir in the heart of those gathered here this morning, what purpose you have for us. Amen.
I grew up in a Christian family, but Santa and presents and candy and feasts and family and all of the Yuletide stuff are part of my Christmas memories,
Along with Jesus and the manger and Mary and Joseph and Bethlehem and Shepherds and Magi and the true meaning of Christmas.
There is an approach that some Christian leaders and churches alike take at this time of the year – maybe you are familiar with, it is the defensive strategy against what is perceived as the “War on Christmas,”
The most popular response is “Christ is the reason for the season”
Now, without a doubt ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ – Christmas is merely the blending of the words Christ and Mass – the catholic term from the Latin for the Eucharist or Communion blended with the name of our Lord
It will always be so, and despite pressure from some corners of our society, I don’t believe the name of the season will change anytime soon
So, if there is a “War on Christmas,” I simply do not pay attention. – I think there are bigger fish to fry
I celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, God breaking into human life in an unprecedented way, but there is room for other forms of celebration at Christmas.
I never tire of Christmas - I never tire of Christmas stuff, even if I have to rush around trying to get everything done,
And besides, as you might imagine, Kelly gets most of the present buying and food preparations done anyways.
I am, at the stage of my life, where I am not overly bothered by the materialism of Christmas,
If you must spend money, why not in honour of the baby Jesus and to make your children and grandchildren happy?
If you do not want to celebrate Christmas with lavish expenditures of money and gifts, there is a simple solution… just say no.
I don’t get agitated if many people focus on fuzzy reasons for the season – warmth… and love… and family… and caring…
Because when you think about it, all of these things are good, and Jesus had all of them all on the day of his birth. – warmth, love, family and caring
Of course, as a preacher and evangelist… and actually, as a baptized believer, it is my responsibility whenever called upon to make an account for the faith that is in me
In word… and deed – and I believe that I do!
I do not care that many people, who are nominally Christians, want to celebrate Jesus’ birth and set foot for the first time in a year in Church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
One day is better than no days and if Christmas pulls them in, how good is that?
It does not matter to me that people who are not Christians adopt some of the trappings of Christmas and join in the holiday fun,
Even if their understanding of who Jesus is, remains theologically limited;
It is my job to teach and preach and I feel a strong responsibility to do that
However, As I said at both services on Christmas Eve, “In God’s Holy Church, All are welcome”
They are welcome in my books, whether that be for Lessons and Carols, or the pageant or Christmas Eve to have some fun and to enjoy the time with their families and friends.
I am also happy that people feel comfortable to step away from Christmas because it is not a part of their religious traditions
And they should not have to join in with any religious celebration with which they feel uncomfortable.
I am at ease with schmaltzy Christmas specials, and Christmas movies, even though I don’t like some of them.
I am even fine with the lack of theological sophistication many people express regarding Jesus,
A lack of understanding that a saviour was born that first Christmas day,
God incarnate who came as a humble and vulnerable child to live amongst us and die for us,
And yet have a laser-like focus on Santa Claus,
Without any greater understanding of St. Nicholas and the myths and legends which surround Nicholas. I am fine with all of this,
The reason that I am fine with all this… is that beyond any shadow of doubt, in my mind, there is, at work, a truth that is beyond suppression
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
The truth of ‘The Light of the World’ being born into the world, can not be stifled
And so however much as you can get of it… can understand of it, at this time… is good
The child was born, and dwelled among us.
Let us, in our own ways… Join in and celebrate.
All are welcome at the manger.
Today, is the 9th day of Christmas – we are still in the Christmas season, however, as you may notice by the readings, hymns and prayers, we are also only three days away from Epiphany, and so this Sunday we are celebrating Epiphany
The feast of Epiphany finds its roots in the Eastern half of the Catholic Church, variants of which are now often called the Orthodox Church - Greek orthodox, Russian Orthodox…
It was seen in the early church as more significant than Christmas.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, and became significant after the 5th century.
Where Epiphany for some was and is closely related to the baptism of Jesus.
In the baptism of Jesus we have the beginning of His adult ministry,
The spirit of God descending on Jesus like a dove and the words of God declaring that “this is my son, with whom I am well pleased”.
And so our Lord’s Baptism is understood as the beginning of God sharing himself, in the flesh of Jesus.
It was Easter, and Pentecost, with Epiphany that were seen as the most significant events on the Christian calendar.
The reason that Epiphany is held in such high regard can be understood by what Epiphany means.
The simplest definition is that Epiphany is: “the revelation of God”
God showing himself to the world.
You can see why some Eastern Catholics, to this day, still celebrate New Years day - as January 6th,
Why Epiphany is such an important event to be commemorated as Christians, followers of Christ.
But the Western Catholics, Roman Catholics…which nearly all Protestants, including us, trace our roots, are more likely to identify Epiphany with Matthew story of the magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
This is not a great divergence from the East because in the definition of what Epiphany is: The revelation of God in Christ. - We have God revealed to the Magi.
Epiphany is a story of how the Gentiles, non-Jews, who had previously been outside God’s chosen people, now have God expanding the net to include all people
And this event should be held in holy reverence among us all.
So we have Epiphany, commemorating two different perspectives, under two different traditions of the Christian community
Yet it is really commemorating one event - - divine revelation - - God manifested and revealed as Christ
So pulling all of this together, we are in the time of the year most known, regardless of your level of Christian commitment, as a time of great and varied celebration
Celebration that provides an opportunity for people to engage beyond the surface level and consider… something more
So even if the celebrations are detached from their meaning – the opportunity of the revelation of God is wonderful
We have the baptism of Jesus – our Lord’s revealed identity
We have the Eastern Catholics also celebrating the birth of Jesus – from which time is measured – God in incarnate – revealed to the world
And we have the visit of the magi – God revealed to the Gentiles
To all of this – we, today, declare it is Epiphany - the revelation of God
So that is what it is… – but what does it mean… these varied understandings of Epiphany
It means everything… it means everything
For those that are feeling alone – God has come into the world for you – to declare that you are of infinite value to God
Jesus said in a prayer to God the Father - 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)
For those that need to understand who God is - God has come into the world for you – to show you
For Jesus said “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)
For those need to understand their meaning, their purpose in life - God has come into the world for you – to show you – to model for you – to declare in word and deed “The Kingdom of God”
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do (John 14:11-12)
For those that are carrying burdens - God has come into the world for you – and revealed that your burdens are His burdens
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)
And today, we celebrate beyond the prophet Jesus, with wise and wonderful teachings about life… about God… and about the Kingdom of God…
Beyond the Jewish Rabbi that sacrificially gave His life for His people
- To make them Right-e-ous with God
Today we learn and celebrate that “His People” means for “all people”
As Paul writes in our reading from the letter to the Ephesians
In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:5-6)
Epiphany means God’s revelation for All…
Lord, our Lord, may your light shine through all of us, in the words that we have to share, in the lives that we live as a testimony, a witness to our faith in You - and stir in the hearts of all gathered here this morning, what purpose you have for us. Amen.