East Meets West

– Andy Wade –

ortho.magiAs many Christians around the globe take down their Christmas decorations and prepare for Epiphany, millions of other Christians around the globe are just putting up their trees and decorations for Christmas. Today, Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar celebrate Epiphany, the day we remember both the Gentile Magi from the East arriving to worship Jesus, and remember Jesus’ baptism. For the majority of the Orthodox Church, following the Julian Calendar, this is Christmas Eve., December 24th.

Armenian MagiI always find this East meets West mashup inspiring. The many levels of meaning which radiate from the incarnation are captured well as Christmas and Epiphany overlap: God, born as one of us, yet born to bring salvation to all; Jewish shepherds welcomed at the Christ-child’s bedside, noble Gentile magi welcomed there as well.

These realities alone are cause for great joy! But add the celebration of Jesus’ baptism, a baptism John was performing for others for the forgiveness of sins, and a theological picture is painted that outshines any tree light or holy icon. Here he is, the sinless one, the one born to reconcile all things to himself, the one who began life welcoming both Jew and Gentile, the great and the lowly, male and female, this one who came in flesh, now identifying also with the depths of our brokenness as he emerges from the waters of the Jordan River.

This is the kind of thing that makes me stand in awe.

epiphanys.eveAwe is an appropriate response; it’s a form of worship. But as I reflect on all that God has done on our behalf, and HOW God chose to do it, I find simply sitting in awe makes me restless. Think about the responses from those who came to worship Jesus. Awe, most certainly, but they didn’t just stay there and take it all in. The action of God in Christ on our behalf compels us to go out and act (also a form of worship) on behalf of others as both witnesses and beneficiaries of all that God has done.

The shepherds spread the word about what they had seen and heard. The magi, in an act of civil disobedience, thwarted political authority and returned to their country “by another way”. Those who went out into the desert to hear John the Baptist were baptized but then witnessed “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” stepping into the waters to be baptized as well.

How do these events change us? John the Baptist’s call was to turn our lives around – to repent – to face God and live entirely new lives. John the Baptist is preparing the way both God incarnate, but he’s also preparing the way for us to live incarnationally.

I know that for me, it becomes all too easy to rest in awe. I know I’m not the same person I was before I became a follower of Jesus. I also know I’m not fully what God, in Christ, is calling me to become. The Church calendar reminds us that these events, while a one-off as far as literal history, become an ongoing process in the depths of our hearts. Again and again we enter into the amazing events of the incarnation. Again and again we are reminded that Christ must become incarnate in us, both in our hearts and in our actions.

Living into the incarnation becomes a continual journey of transformation. For part of the Christian Church, the calendar has already turned to a new year. For another part of the church, the old year is just coming to a close. For all of us, it is a time to allow God’s Spirit to infuse our lives with newness as we re-commit ourselves to incarnational faith.

None of this is about New Year’s resolutions. This is about a life-long journey of faith within a community of Christ-followers who help each other keep Jesus at the center. This is about discovering, and re-discovering, what it means to be disciples of Jesus, not just for ourselves or our local church, but for the larger community – male and female, follower and non-follower, rich and poor…beyond race, beyond national borders, and beyond (and far above) political allegiances.

As we reflect on this season, may we be inspired to step outside our comfort zones and deeper into the purpose of God in the world. May the Epiphany of this Christmas reshape us so that we may truly become, in Christ, a blessing to all creation.