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January 13, 2008 Feast of the Epiphany, All Souls'
Last night – Twelfth Night –
marked the conclusion of the Christmas Season and the
beginning of the Season of Epiphany. Father Bright likes
to remind us that Christmas is a Feast of twelve days.
He doesn’t remind us of this because he enjoys all the
partying, which he does. He reminds us of this because
of beautiful depth and meaning of the season. Christmas
Day falls on the twenty-fifth of December. I imagine
most of you already knew this. What you might not know
is that on the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and
twenty-eight days of December we celebrate the feasts of
St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents. St.
Stephen, the first Deacon, was also the first Christian
martyr. He was killed for his faith. He died praying for
the forgiveness of those who were putting him to death.
St. John was not out to death for his faith, but he
actually went to the cross with Jesus and comforted our
Lord’s mother. For this reason, he is regarded by the
church as a martyr in will if not indeed. The Holy
Innocents were those children killed by Herod as he
attempted to snuff out the life of our new-born King.
Their dying allowed the Holy Family to escape, and for
this reason the church regards them as martyrs in deed
if not in will. In St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy
Innocents, we see martyrdom in all its aspects.
Why is their all this
emphasis on martyrdom immediately following the birth of
our Lord Jesus? The answer is simple: Jesus was born in
a manger, where lambs are born. Our Lord Jesus is the
Lamb of God. Our Lord Jesus is that sacrificial lamb who
came to offer his life as an atoning sacrifice. This is
the message which lies underneath all the glitz and
glamour, and all the tinsel and titillation of our
Christmas jubilation. Something truly profound and even
earth shattering was happening. The Lamb of God had
come. By his life, death, resurrection, and ascension,
our Lord Jesus fulfilled all the law and the prophets.
On the octave of his birth, according to the law, he was
circumcised. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
When the fullness of time was
come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made
under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption of sons.
The phrase “under the law”, as St.
Paul uses it, refers to belonging to the Covenant, and
being a member of that nation set apart and dedicated to
God. If our Lord was going to fulfill the law and redeem
those under the law, or fulfill the Covenant and redeem
those under the Covenant, he must himself be within that
Covenant. And so, on New Year’s Day, while the rest of
the world, in varying states of grogginess, breaks all
their resolutions, we celebrate the circumcision of
Circumcision is a sign of the
covenant. Part of God’s covenantal promise was that the
people would inherit a land which they would populate
with their offspring which would be as numerous as there
are grains of sand in the desert, generation by
generation. But, this promise wasn’t merely about being
blessed with lots and lots of children. It wasn’t just
the promise of a big family. And so, the sign is made on
the generative organ, a sign which reminds us that the
covenant isn’t simply about the blessing and heritage of
children, but concerns a land and a people wholly
dedicated to the praise and worship and service of God.
This is important for us to remember. There is a great
deal of emphasis these days upon the importance of
family. This is a good thing. However, we must not
insist upon the primacy of family in such a way as to
make it more important than the laws and institutions
which compose a rational society in which families can
live and children can be raised in peace and
tranquility. Otherwise, we will end up with a society
which more resembles the Mafia than it does a “shining
city on a hill.” Article 32 of the Articles of Religion
states that the clergy, and indeed, all Christian men
may marry … at their own discretion, “as they shall
judge the same to serve better to godliness.” You see,
godliness is the point. Marriage must be “a school of
virtue” in which children are raised unto godliness.
That is the point.
We now come to the Epiphany
of our Lord. This is yet another Feast of the church,
making Father Bright happy yet again. We remember the
visit of the magi. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many
wise men there were who visited. There might have been a
baker’s dozen for all we know. It says only that they
brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
These gifts, to which the church has assigned sacred and
mystic meaning, were all considered precious, costly,
and entirely appropriate to honoring the birth of a
King. One of our hymns refers to the wise men as kings.
This is an old tradition, and it fits nicely with the
Messianic reference in Psalm 72: “The Kings of Tarshish
and of the isles bring presents, the kings of Sheba and
Seba shall offer gifts.”
The word “epiphany” means to
make manifest. It is a season of light. What is being
revealed in this light, and what is being made manifest
in the wise men’s gifts, is the identity of the Holy
Child and the purpose of his coming among us. He is the
Lamb of God. He is God with us. He is our King.
He is the Lamb of God slain
before the foundation of the world, born to save us from
our sins and restore us to our rightful minds in his own
image and likeness.
He is God with us. He is the
Word made flesh. He is the light which lightens everyone
born in this world. His light can never be overcome by
the darkness because his light is the knowledge of the
glory of God. Our faith teaches us that God has called
us to a divine and human friendship. We may know God. We
may know Him. We do not need to search for God by
fleeing this world; God has come to us, and we may know
Him in this world. He is reconciling this world to
Himself in Christ so that nothing is lost and not one
fragment remains outside His loving providence.
He is our King. His kingdom
is not one of golden palaces and walled, fortified
cities; of armies and conquest, and the power of
domination. His Kingdom is ever so much greater and more
enduring because it begins within us. It is a kingdom
built from the inside out, beginning in spirit and
fulfilled in resurrection. It is a kingdom founded in
faith, conceived in the charity of God, and sustained by
the hope which aspires to things not seen. It is a city
whose builder and maker is God.
Lift up your heads O ye gates; even
lift them up, ye everlasting doors: And the King of
Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord
of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
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