Happy New Year!
Thank you to everyone from across Hope and Emmanuel churches who worked so hard to make Advent and Christmas come together so well once again. It has been great to welcome so many into our churches to celebrate the sending of Christ into the world at Christmas!
During Advent and Christmas we followed The Church of England’s theme, “#FollowTheStar”. Those of you who attended our 11am and 4pm Sunday services during the Advent season will have received a copy of The Church of England booklet, “#FollowTheStar – A Journey through the 12 Days of Christmas” – given out on 16th and 23rd December.
The twelve days of Christmas of course continue into this month, culminating on Sunday 6th January when we celebrate the Epiphany. The Epiphany is the Feast Day when we celebrate the arrival of the magi or wise men or ‘kings’ in Bethlehem who in response to Jesus’ ‘Epiphany’ to them, gave gifts to the ‘boy Jesus’ (not baby Jesus), having followed the Epiphany Star that had ‘appeared’ in the sky, when in the East.
Epiphany is a word that means ‘appearing’. Epiphany is the four week where we celebrate various revelations or appearances of God through Jesus to humankind. The appearance of God to the wise men (Matthew 2), to those who witnessed Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3), to those who heard Jesus first speak in the Synagogue (Luke 4), to those who attended the Wedding at Cana (John 2) and to Simeon and Anna in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40).
In the Eastern Church, Epiphany Sunday is Christmas Day. It is a perfect end to our 12 days of Christmas. On Christmas Day we celebrate God’s gift to us – the baby Jesus, as the Word become flesh (John 1), the Son of God (Matthew 1, Luke 1), God become human. On Epiphany Sunday we listen to the story of the wise men (Matthew 2) giving gifts back to Jesus – gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The twelve day period from Christmas Day to Epiphany illustrates to us exactly how we are each invited to respond to God as Christians. God loves us first. As our Creator he made us. Then as people who get things not always right in life, he send his Son at Christmas to be our Saviour. In response to God’s gift of Jesus, on Epiphany Sunday, in following after the example of the wise men, we are invited to love Him back.
Ultimately, we understand as Christians that everything we have is a gift from God. Anything we ourselves can give back to God, is only because God gave it to us first. As the writer of 1 John (4:19) summarises so well - “We love because God loved us first”.
Giving back to God is part of our spiritual act of worship.
This is what the Wise Men did. Their gifts were given to Jesus as an act of worship. The gifts carried much symbolism too and spoke prophetically of who Jesus is and all that He came to do.
As the Carol, We Three Kings, illustrates so powerfully…
Born a King on Bethlehem plain,
gold I bring to crown Him again
Frankincense for Jesus have I,
God on earth yet Priest on high…
Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume,
tells of His death and Calvary’s gloom
Glorious now, behold him arise,
King, and God, and sacrifice!
To Jesus, the kings gave him gold to show the world that Jesus is King. They gave him Frankincense to show the world that Jesus’, whilst born of Mary, is also born of God. Lastly myrrh was given as a sign of the death that Jesus would one day go on to die for us and the forgiveness of our sins…
This New Year, a question for you to reflect upon during Epiphany – how will you give back your life to God in gratitude for all that he has done for you in giving you the gift of Jesus?
(One idea that I have is! Why not try the Bible Society’s new 8 week Bible Course? Starting here this month! More information inside)
In Christ, Adam
Rev Adam Pawley