Epiphany’s Radical Welcome

Christians around the world celebrated this past Friday as Epiphany, the traditional end of  Christmastide on the 12th Day of Christmas.  Emphases vary according to culture, theological tradition and custom, but the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God is a central theme of Epiphany.

Most Christians believe or center their spiritual lives around some variation of the basic Christian narrative:  the “Good News” of the Gospel is that God seeks to reconcile humankind to Godself and to reclaim all of creation for creation’s good and for God’s eternal glory.  To my theological ear, Christmas touches Easter in undeniable ways:  the story of Christ’s birth (Incarnation) and the story of his passion are fundamentally about God going to the far places (becoming enfleshed and time-bound; dying) to reconcile everything and everyoneto Godself.  Christ’s coming into history is the story of the unorthodox emigration of God from cosmos to poverty to death. The crux of Christianity, in any liturgical season, is the idea that a place at God’s table is being prepared not only for all who would seek it, but for all whom God seeks. Rahab’s service to the Hebrews in Jericho, Ruth’s faithful dedication to her mother-in-law, and their inclusion in Christ’s lineage by the Gospel writer Matthew shows that Christ’s birth, while wholly unique, is not unlike the progressive extension of covenant found throughout the Hebrew Bible. Neither is it something for Jewish or Christian people only. The birth of Christ is, the traditions assert, the coming of God into history, God’s putting on of flesh, vulnerability, rejection. The beginning of God’s own march toward death and undoing it.

It’s not by accident that the church follows the celebration of God’s coming to dwell among us with a season proclaiming the inclusion of all peoples in the good news of Christmas. Epiphany reminds us that this is, indeed, a good news that shall be to all people. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus greeted the visiting wise men who came following stars. Holy Hosts conjured before shepherds. The Archangel Gabriel came to a peasant girl in the backwater parts of a backwater province of the most powerful empire on Earth, uninvited. The Gospel of John begins by describing the coming of the light that never goes out, “the true light that gives light to everyone.” Matthew describes the alignment of genes that birthed God from the unlikely margins.

In the person of Jesus and in the spiritual lives of those who seek to follow after him, the Christian story is a story of movement. From heaven to earth, eternity to time, from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Jerusalem. From the east, bearing gifts, and from a manger bearing good tidings of great joy for all people. From self-satisfied, complacent Christianity toward a suprachristian spirit of radical welcome, inclusion, and grace. From fear to love. From judgement to journey. From “am I my brother’s keeper?” to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” From a narrow politics of self-preservation and jingo to a public ethic of justice, from crushing those on the margin to crushing everything in us that keeps us from loving as God does. From the awe of Christmas to what it must mean, Epiphany’s radical welcome.

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