“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
Epiphany: to show, to make known, to reveal.
As I began to type this blog post, the calendar app on my phone helpfully reminded me that it is Tuesday, January 25th. It has now been exactly one month since Christmas Day. The critical, persistent little voice in the back of my head immediately piped up, wondering where the heck that time went, and inquiring why, despite my faithful daily efforts, I seem to have so little to show for myself during the first month of 2022!
In our family, we don’t put away the nativity set until January 6th, presumably so that the Wise Ones can at least end their arduous annual trek across our mantle with a quick hello to the holy family before being dumped back into their respective Willow Tree boxes for another long year of storage. The rest of our household Christmas decorations quickly follow the Magi to their appointed Rubbermaid totes in our basement storage room, except, of course, for the tree.
Our tree is “real,” so it doesn’t get pulled apart and packed away in a box. Instead, it gets efficiently stripped of all the precious homemade ornaments we hang on every branch every Christmas, each with a story that marks the life and growth of our family, year by year. Next, the strands of lights are unceremoniously unstrung, untangled, and packed away. Last, the tree itself gets carried out of the house and heaved over the railing of our deck into the back yard, laying wherever it lands and spending the rest of our long Canadian winter in a snowdrift, providing shelter to the chickadees and sparrows. When spring finally arrives, we’ll put the remains of the tree through the wood chipper, and then use it for mulching the garden. Nothing gets wasted.
But for now, after “evicting” the tree from our premises and sweeping up about a million pokey little pine needles left behind it in a trail of what seems like a wordless (yet powerfully pointed) coniferous version of a peaceful protest, we pronounce the house “undecorated” once more. It feels good to put everything in its proper place again, after all of those holiday festivities.
We celebrated Epiphany on the 6th, and we boldly marched off into 2022 with our New Year’s resolutions in hand. This is the year we are finally going to get in shape! This is the year we are actually going to read Scripture every day! This is the year we’re going to stop yelling at our teenagers, or start taking our finances more seriously, or stop worrying so much about our elderly parents, or start focusing on … (fill in your preferred list of virtues or priorities here).
It’s now been more than three weeks since we began this new year. It’s been more than three weeks since we promised ourselves that this year would be different, or that we would be different, this year.
To paraphrase the signature question of a popular talk show host, “How’s that working out for you?”
Maybe none of your aspirational goals have gone according to what you’d prayed, practiced, or planned. Maybe January has already put you through the wringer emotionally, physically, financially, or spiritually. Maybe you feel like you’ve been stripped bare, judged to be past your prime, and then chucked out the door as unceremoniously as our dried out, dropping-it’s-needles-on-every-surface Christmas tree at Epiphany.
Maybe this is the winter of your discontent. Maybe you feel like you have pivoted until you are dizzy and nauseous, and you’d really just like to get off of this endless public health merry-go-round (right freaking now, if you please), but Covid doesn’t care and won’t cooperate with your preferences.
Or maybe you are quietly, desperately looking for meaning and purpose. Maybe you long for hope and encouragement, or you feel like you need a fundamental reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but your painful circumstances don’t seem to be changing and you aren’t sure how much longer you can hang on.
Whatever your heartache and burden, whatever the heavy load you are carrying, please know that help is not only on the way; it’s already here! The season of Epiphany reminds us that the truth and grace of Emmanuel, the Word made flesh, who was, and is, and ever shall be—this living, eternal God—is actively showing himself to us, and he is for us.
Jesus makes himself known to us. The love of God, in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit is revealing Godself to us through the Light of the World.
God. With. Us.
Just let that sink into your heart for a moment.
Let the truth of that statement astound you. I am amazed by this idea every time I think about it. But here’s the thing: the earth-shattering, world-redeeming epiphany that God is with us, in Christ, cannot be relegated to the storage room of our hearts and lives like so many leftover boxes filled with miscellaneous Christmas decorations that have overstayed their proper season!
This divine action, this sharing of the Light of the World with all the people, this good news that Christ is incarnate, enfleshed to show God’s heart to humanity and to transform us and restore us to God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, well, it isn’t just about us and our entertainment, as if the prophets, the angelic choir, the shepherds, and Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were all just some high budget characters in an ancient celestial version of a Netflix nativity that aired once, a long time ago, near Bethlehem!
No, this profound revelation of Christ come to earth, for us, is a proclamation of Love that swaddles us in grace, wrapping us up in this blessed assurance: God’s revelation of grace, God’s epiphany that shows us the lengths to which God will go to share God’s love, God’s compassion, God’s restoration with humanity, is not some kind of cheap over-the-top entertainment production! No! God’s love is not some kind of plastic Dollar Store treat either, like a conditional, Pavlovian reward that gets handed out to just a few privileged people at the front of the class, and only if God happens to feel charitably inclined. That’s not how God’s love works! That’s not how the Light of the World functions!
God does not stingily dole out God’s love and acceptance like those tiny “gold star” stickers that you could earn if you had perfect attendance at Sunday School back in the 70’s and 80’s (but only if you memorized the assigned Bible verses perfectly as a child, and you implemented all of your New Year’s resolutions consistently as an adult, right?) Uh, actually, you’re really wrong!
God’s love and acceptance are truly unconditional. There’s no need for you to try to impress God by creating a “new and improved” version of yourself. You can lay down the pressure of those self-improvement social goals. Drop the heavy burden of all those ridiculous, impossible expectations you’ve imposed on yourself. Listen: we are not God! We are not expected to function like God! So, if you genuinely want to get in better shape this year because your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and a precious gift from God, that’s great, but please, don’t spend your time and money dragging yourself to the gym every morning out of some misguided assumption that God cannot really love you until you are a perfect size whatever.
God loves you and I, and every other human being on the planet fully and completely, right now, and that love does not depend on any of our perceived accomplishments or failures. God’s love is unconditional! God’s love doesn’t depend on what we do, but rather, on what God has already done for us, in Christ. Our Creator genuinely longs to share all of this beauty and goodness with us, for Love’s own sake. There are no secret agendas, no sneaky balloon payments or interest rate hikes in the fine print. God’s love truly has no strings attached, no hidden hooks. In God’s economy, everyone is welcome, everyone is lavished with loving abundance, yet nothing is wasted and no one is harmed, including creation.
Sign me up for that kind of kingdom! I want to inhabit that place and worship that King! As a beloved daughter of the living God, I want to participate in that kind of peace and plenty, the kind that Jesus described in the embodied prayer that he taught the disciples: you know, the one where Jesus was talking to his Abba, asking that, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Whether we are beginners in the faith, or lifers in the church, most Christians will say that we believe God loves us as we are. And yet, in our heart of hearts, many of us still cling to the misguided notion that God might somehow love us more, or at least, would be happier with us, if we could just accomplish more, or be a bit holier, or lead a little better.
That is such a terrible lie. And it is so commonplace that we often don’t even seem to realize that we’ve been sucked in, that we’ve fallen for the falsehood again, that we’ve been duped by the oldest trick in the enemy’s book!
This is one of the reasons that I’m so thankful that Epiphany is a season, not just a single day. I need a whole liturgical season of God’s revelation to show me, to disciple me, to remind me of the truth I need to hear: that this way of knowing, this shining promise of unconditional love and intimate relationship with the Lover of our souls is still patiently unfolding in my life through the person and work of Jesus. I don’t have to have it all figured out in one tidy package deal. You don’t, either! These truths need time to be fully revealed to us, and through us. We need time to ponder and reflect on God’s generous love. We need time to gaze at Jesus, the Light of the World.
I’m sharing this simple message of God’s unconditional love with you today, just in case you also need this reminder. So please, don’t pack the amazing truths of Epiphany away too soon. Don’t treat the revelation of God’s love casually, like it can be squished together with Advent and Christmas, and then promptly trundled off to the storage room so that you’ll have more space for your regular schedule, your usual priorities.
Let’s make the revelation of Jesus our priority this year! Let’s focus on knowing Christ and making Christ known in our hearts and homes, our communities and churches.
Friends, whether January has gone very well or very badly for you, please know that the light and love of Christ is still shining, still offering, still revealing, still loving—and that gift is still being made known on earth, still being patiently extended by God, for you.
You see, Epiphany isn’t like some time-limited, slightly-sleezy online commercial offer. You haven’t missed your one and only opportunity to be transformed! We are all precious and beloved children of God, and God longs to reveal such unconditional love and grace to each of us that we can’t resist being transformed by it. As Christ is revealed to us, our passion is rekindled, our faith is renewed, and we become capable of reflecting the love of Jesus, the Light of the World, with others around us.
A Prayer for the Day:
God-with-us, we are amazed by your love and convicted by your Spirit. As we think about the tasks ahead of us today, we confess that we are anxious and troubled by many things. We are thankful that you invite us to come to you when we are burdened and distressed. You calm our anxiety with your presence, for you are our peace. You break down every wall, every barrier that separates us from you.
O God, sometimes we feel discouraged and even at risk of being discarded, like we are out-of-season decor, past our prime. Help us to know you and to rest confidently in your unconditional love for us today. Remind us that we are your beloved children, given inestimable worth and value through the love of Jesus. Strengthen and uphold us. Shine the Light of the World all around us, that we may receive your love and reflect your glory.
Show us again that your affection for us is deep and constant, timeless and secure. We have no cause for fear; when we walk through the deepest valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death, we do not walk in darkness, and we do not walk alone. Even when we are enduring the most difficult of circumstances, you have promised to be with us, lighting our path. We will never face the trials and tragedies of life without your loving presence to comfort and sustain us.
You shine the glorious light of Christ to guide us, and we are so thankful for that kindness, for your generous provision of grace to help us in our time of need, and for your unconditional, always-faithful love. We respond to the revealing of your love, in Jesus, and we dedicate ourselves to you again, O God. Transform us, and transform your beautiful, broken world in and through us, by the power of your Holy Spirit, we pray! Amen.
Have a listen to this wonderful worship song, below: