Incarnation & Epiphany
I wonder what people said about you when you were born. Does your family have stories about what people thought or said the first time they saw you? Unfortunately, Scripture doesn’t give us cute memories of Jesus as a baby, though I’m sure there were those. Among the Gospels only Matthew and Luke share a precious few stories about Jesus’s birth and childhood.
One of those stories happens eight days after Jesus’s birth. Mary and Joseph take their infant son to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant made with Abraham according to the Law of Moses, and name him Jesus. In the temple they encounter a devout elderly man filled with the Holy Spirit, named Simeon, and a prophetess deeply faithful in her truth-speaking vocation, named Anna. Simeon and Anna lived long on the promise of the messiah, with the Holy Spirit helping them to trust in God even as time eroded the trust of others. Neither Simeon nor Anna gawk at Jesus or pinch his cheeks. Rather they both announce the mystery that through the life and suffering of this weak, innocent child Israel will be delivered and God’s light will illumine the Gentiles.
This passage teaches us that the Christmas miracle — God with us — has two sides, incarnation and epiphany. Incarnation is all about God becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood, about God willingly entering the limits and vulnerabilities of human beings without losing any of what makes God divine and transcendent. Jesus comes to make us sharers in the story of salvation, so that as his disciples we will learn to extend grace to others and to engage new and surprising relationships. Incarnation teaches us that the good news of the Christ is meant to be lived. But incarnation alone doesn’t get our attention.
Epiphany — the other side of Christmas — is about manifestation, an event that shows us something clearly. Our culture has conditioned us to see flashy signs, melodrama, and big production value as the way to get our attention or to persuade us to purchase something because somehow our lives would be incomplete without it. Always flashier; always more. But I think all the vibrant advertising and entertainment has dulled our spirits because we no longer see the holiness of ordinary things, the simple ways God comes to us. After all, Jesus comes as a baby in a manger in a small town among a small people in an insignificant corner of the world. There’s nothing flashy about it, but in those humble beginnings God calls to us from eternity to see the depths of his love in the same way he calls to us from the suffering of the cross. Every manifestation of Jesus to the world, every moment of grace is an epiphany pointing us to new life.
The Jesus stories we tell at Christmas remind us that the world’s transformation began just by Jesus being born and beheld — incarnation and epiphany. Think about that. An infant has no way of persuading people to love them or understand them apart from cries and screams. No one knows what they’ll do or how their life will turn out for them. They simply are. On the other side, no one can lie to an infant or pretend to be someone they aren’t. Before children all our pretensions and ambitions mean nothing. We can only be what we truly are. Just by being born and beheld Jesus changes everything. Before performing any miracle, calling any disciples, preaching any sermons, or challenging any religious authority, Jesus reveals God’s grace to us even as he rests in his mother’s arms.
The vulnerability with which Jesus enters the world is the same vulnerability he reveals on the cross at Golgotha. It is the same “power made perfect in weakness” and the same “perfect love that drives out all fear,” surprising and unassuming, yet totally transformative. People had many more things to say about Jesus as Bethlehem gave way to Golgotha. They’re still talking about him today. So what do you say about Jesus? Have you seen him? Has he set you free? Has his salvation truly made a difference in you? 
Pastor Patrick
Last Published: January 9, 2020 11:00 AM
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