Responding to the Gifts Provided By God: An Epiphany Reflection

Isaiah 60: 1-6
Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3: 1-12
Matthew 2: 1-12
Feast of the Epiphany Reflection by Andrew Bennett

On January 6, Christians in the Western churches celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. The general Epiphany season recalls many of the beginnings of the ministry of Jesus Christ, but the Feast of the Epiphany is most associated with the coming of the wise men, or Magi, and their offering of gifts to the Christ child (Matthew 2: 1-12).
We have learned, though, and have commemorated recently in the Western church, the coming of the Christ child. Christians consider this a manifestation of God. In bidding on the chosen people, the Book of Isaiah states “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60: 1). This verse is speaking to a people in crisis, reassuring them that God will continue to be on their side.
Paul’s letters, however, also extend this grace to the Gentiles. The ministry of Paul is most associated with a continuation of God’s favor outside just one particular group of people, but rather extends this grace and mercy to all that turn to God. Christians usually associate this with a belief in the Trinity that is God as recognized as Creator (often Father), Sanctifier (Son), and Redeemer (the Holy Spirit). The Magi may be recognized for bringing gifts to the Christ child, but Christian scripture usually recognizes that God provides the far greater gift.
Christians, especially Protestant Christians, often recognize this Grace of God as being something that has been given, not earned. This represents the establishment of salvation. While we do not “owe” anything to God, baptized Christians who are being responsible to the faith are still to exhibit certain attributes such as denouncing Satan/evil/things that turn us away from God and, instead, recognize the God and Christ are the keys to salvation (e.g. Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1979, pp. 302-303). The Episcopal Church, among other ones, continues this line of denouncing evil and asks potential candidates for confirmation to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ”, “to seek and serve Christ in all persons”, and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 417)
By so doing, we are supposed to live lives that are witness to Christ. If we lead lives, and conduct our churches, in ways hostile to Christ’s message, we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing as Christians. If, however, we choose to attempt to live out the tenants of the faith, however, this constitutes a very different way of conducting our lives and institutions.
This may mean that we need to turn away from those things that turn us away from God and from one another. Such things may include such things as overconsumption, lacking concern for the less fortunate, and not striding to correct a wrong just because it is in our personal interests not to do so. The work of carrying out the Gospel, of giving the way Christ gives, is certainly not easy and, some might say, impossible for human beings to fully implement. Be that as it may, however, Christians are supposed to order their lives like Christ in order to give to others. This may or may not be in our personal interests, but we are not asked, in the Christian message, to lead lives of rugged individualism, but rather to serve Christ by serving others.
The Feast and season of Epiphany provides individual Christians and the Church an excellent opportunity to recommit to the tenants of baptism. While we are very fortunate that we need not be perfect, actually leading lives in congruence to a Christian life are not always easy, especially in today’s world and, especially, in relatively wealthy, post-industrialized societies. However, it may be appropriate for individuals and the Church to examine closely rather their actions lean Christian tenants or not. While perfection may not be required, these tenants help shape the Christian life and how it is perceived.

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