A small child was standing in the hallway of her house, watching the Christmas tree with all its lights come down. When the rest of the house had been cleared, and the tree had been stripped and removed and the child said sadly, ’Christmas has gone out of the door’.
Stepping back from the dazzle, the hustle and bustle of contemporary Christmas, it is in the season of Epiphany, revelation, that we find meaning and hope. In this short season we move from the manger to the cross.
We started that journey with the Magi delivering their gifts to Jesus. It was a journey that took them out of their comfort zone, leaving their familiar surroundings and home comforts to struggle with harsh conditions and an uncertain outcome. Through the gifts we see something of Jesus, including his death and is their encounter with Herod that ultimately leads to the slaughter of the innocents.
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. But why baptism? Jesus, in his humanity, identifies with the condition of all of us as sinners in need of repentance. He doesn’t set himself apart, even though he was qualified to do so, but identifies with each one of us. He is affirmed by the Holy Spirit as we too are as the Holy Spirit transforms and changes us.
At the wedding at Cana Jesus is revealed in the changing of water into wine, a reflection of God’s super abundance. Jesus solves the problem of running out of wine quietly and undemonstratively so as to persevere his hosts dignity, and please his guests, leaving everyone free to taste something better than they could have hoped for. An example that we to can give beyond measure – to love our enemies and those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:43-44)
On Wednesday we celebrated the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. He had his own Epiphany on the road to Damascus when the risen and ascended Jesus meets him and stops him in his tracks. Saul, as he was originally known, was one of the principle architects of the persecution of the early church. This zealously violent man, however, was chosen by God as the ‘instrument …to bring my name to the Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.’ Paul himself will suffer greatly in the course of his ministry. Many Christian, all over the world, suffer for their faith.
All these themes point us towards epiphany – a realisation, a revelation of who Jesus is.
And now today, at the end of our journey through Epiphany, we reach Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ.
I recently heard a story about a Syrian refugee who had recently arrived in England. She was an Iraqi Christian married to a Syrian. She had lived in Syria and prior to the troubles she was abandoned by her husband who took their children and left her to fend for herself. Vulnerable to ethnic and ‘religious’ cleansing she was rescued by a United Nations mission and taken to a camp in in a neighbouring country before coming to the UK. She found deep solace and wisdom in the Lord’s Prayer. Asked whether she hated her ‘enemies’ she said that her task is to forgive those who persecute her. It is for God to deliver her from evil. She sees her ‘deliverance’ by the UN mission, and by those who have given her support and shelter since her arrival in the North of England.
Her story connects with the themes that we have encountered on our journey through Epiphany.
Like the magi, she left her familiar surroundings and home comforts to struggle with harsh conditions and an uncertain outcome.
Through baptism Jesus identifies with each of us and was empowered by the Holy Spirit. We can see the Holy Spirit at work in this refugee in her faith, action and understanding of the Scriptures, especially Lord’s Prayer.
In the changing of water into wine, she shows the super-abundance of God’s love as the basis of being able to forgive her enemies.
Like St. Paul, she too, has suffered for her faith.
The story of the Iraqi Christian woman that I have just mentioned connects her to another female, the prophetess Anna who slips briefly into history to bear witness to the child Jesus and his true identity.
Anna was a woman of a very great age who had dedicated her life to worshipping God, fasting and praying in the temple day and night. The day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for presentation, the Holy Spirit led an elderly man, Simeon, to come to the temple too. He had had his own Epiphany – the revelation that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Simeon is described as a man ‘looking forward to the consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2:25) and, in the power of the spirit, he identifies the child Jesus as the bringer of salvation.
Simeon’s song, known as the Nunc Dimittis, is about revelation, Epiphany. Jesus is to be ‘light for revelation to the Gentiles’
Both Anna and Simeon were waiting, watching and looking for something to happen. They waited with open eyes, searching the crowded temple looking for a greater revelation of God’s love. Anna, after 84 years recognised Christ straight away. The readiness that Anna and Simeon came with that day, helped them to see that this was something special. They saw that the king of heaven had been born into an ordinary family who could barely afford the right sacrifice. They encountered Christ
It is Anna though, who shares this revelation with those who are gathered outside the inner sanctum. She ‘began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.’ (Luke 2:38)
Anna, we could say was the first evangelist, and the Syrian woman mentioned earlier, in testifying to her ‘deliverance’ and practising forgiveness of those who have sinned against her, brings the Epiphany, right into our midst today.
Epiphany started with a journey embracing discomfort, loss and death, through to repentance, baptism and empowerment by the Holy Spirit and the abundance of God’s love for us, ultimately shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It brings us from the vulnerable baby in a stable to the dying young man on the cross.
Christmas has indeed ‘gone out of the door’ and in making the journey through Epiphany, we go with it to share the good news with everyone. We bring the Epiphany, the revelation of Christ, to our world today.