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.

Gloria! In te domine!

photo by Valerie Everett

Today is the 12th Day of Christmas and tonight is 12th Night, the end of Christmastide.  Tomorrow is the first day ofEpiphany, a liturgical season during which the Christian tradition has, in theory, stressed God’s radical inclusion, God’s manifestation in Christ, and the revelation of that presence to humanity.  The celebrative model in the West has traditionally been the visit of the Three Kings/Magi.  Eastern churches focus on Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.

Since New Year’s Eve, I had “Scarlet” by U2 stuck in my head.  My wife and I used some iTunes giftcardage to buy October (Deluxe Edition), basically a double release with every album cut and every album cut live.  I said the other day on Facebook how much I love “Moment of Surrender” from No Line On the Horizon, and how underrated I think that whole album is. (Very. Soooo, even).  Listening to October today, I got really, really moved by “Gloria”.  Moved sounds too emotional for what I really mean.  Excited might be better…excited to be listening to such great art that celebrates the fundamental hope of Advent, Christmas, and the New Year.  It’s so much more like Taize or Bach than like what many of us think about when someone says this or that work is Christian. It’s essentially, classically Christian, but it’s also suprachristian.

I haven’t had much interest in classic liturgy or these seasons until recently, but I’ve been exploring the contemplative, prayer-centered spiritualities of the broader tradition and finding much to celebrate.  It seems to me that the best possible response we might have to the classic and at the same time suprachristian themes of Christmas is celebration, not just for the coming of God into history or God’s theophany, but simply for the thought that God is.  The traditions are becoming, for me, a way of considering at deeper levels who God is.

Gloria…in te domine

Oh Lord, loosen my lips.

(photo: Valerie Everett via Flickr.)