Friday, January 06, 2006

The Epiphany of our Lord

On this festival of our Lord's Epiphany, I reflect on how Jesus is given as a light to the nations. In Matthew's gospel, distant easterners are drawn to his light and welcomed into the family of those who worship Jesus as Lord, yet their visit is met with anger and jealousy by Herod and the Jerusalem establishment. The quaint image of the wise men offering their gifts is quickly followed by Herod's killing rampage throughout Judea and the Holy Family's flight to Egypt.

It is so tempting to make our Christian faith a personal, individual affair, but the message of Epiphany reminds us that Jesus enters and brings peace and justice to the messiness of the world not just the messiness of our sinful little hearts. While some may argue that inner peace--internal conversion and relationship with God--is necessary before we can radiate that peace and love to the earth around us ("Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me," says the schmaltzy hymn), the message of Epiphany reminds us that the gospel can never stop there. Jesus upsets the world order, favors outcasts over insiders--yet does not neglect the insiders, either. In fact, we in the wealthy west might hear the Epiphany story as law: how have we become complacent in relying too much on our governments, our capitalistic societies, our elite systems of higher education, and structures of human rights to affect "change" in the world and bring peace to the warring nations.

Today I pray for the women and men who work in global missions, as well as those ordinary Christians who strive to bring their faith to bear beyond the boundaries of their own souls and families. In the spirit of Epiphany, may we all be primed to welcome the strangers in our midst to the peace of the Lord Jesus.


Travis said...

How do you meet the stranger? I spend my time living working and talking to the wealthy. Every once in a while I get this twinge of guilt and I think 'I should do more' but then my only ideas of what to do is writing a check, or volunteering at a charity event.

Phillip said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. We discussed this in my synod cluster meeting this week. As pastors, we often find it difficult to talk regularly with people on the "fringes," so to speak. We're sort of at the center of a faith community, and most of the people we work with and socialize with are also church people. Maybe part of the answer is that we are supposed to equip our parishioners to meet the stranger. But maybe that's a cop-out.

Brian said...

It is only a partial cop-out. We certainly are called to equip our parishioners to meet (and welcome, I might add) strangers, but don't equate stranger with fringe.

In Pat Keifert's book Welcoming the Stranger he points out that each and every human is a stranger to another, and in many ways will always remain so. This thinking though does stand against conventional wisdom which says that we can always remove barriers between each other and lose the stranger element. But we can't. Sin bars the way. We are broken in our relationships with one another... those cannot be fully fixed until the eschaton.

So what do we do now? Can we see the stranger in the other and still continue to seek out and find the brother or sister we have in Christ?

Can we see a person on the fringe even if he or she is wealthy?

We cannot empower others, unless we have in some way engaged the fringe and the stranger... even if that engagement might ruffle some feathers among those folks.