Reflection: Epiphany for All of Us
When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Today is the day of Epiphany, when we consider the revealing of God through Jesus Christ. I have always believed that Epiphany commemorated the arrival of the Wise Men to greet the newborn King of the Jews.
I was tooling around the Internet looking for the root words for epiphany (all I could remember was that “-phany” means “appear”). I was surprised by a mention that different traditions relate Epiphany to several different events in Jesus’ early life. In the Western church, it usually means the moment when Jesus is visited by the Wise Men. In the Eastern church, it regularly refers to the Baptism of Jesus, which is in our lectionary for this coming Sunday. But early church leaders varied quite a bit, describing Epiphany as the birth of Christ, the visit of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus, or even the miracle at the wedding at Cana and the feeding of the crowds.
In considering these varied views on Epiphany, I wonder whether this reflects varied understandings of when the divinity of Jesus was revealed to the world. If we celebrate Jesus as God come to earth to save us, was it enough that the baby was born to Mary? How important was it that even foreign Gentiles were attracted by a special star in the sky to honor this child as King of the Jews? Or was it in Jesus’ adulthood, when he presented himself to John for baptism in obedience to Scripture, when the Holy Spirit came down on him and the blessing of heaven was announced? Or did we need to wait for the signs of Jesus’ miraculous power to be revealed to the public, by turning water into wine or a few loaves of bread into lunch for thousands?
There are indeed several ways that Jesus’ divine nature was demonstrated to the world, and we know that witnesses to these events responded in varied ways—many responded with belief and gratitude, but others (especially those with worldly power) responded with suspicion and fear. According to Matthew, the baby Jesus was targeted by King Herod, who feared the political threat of this newborn King of the Jews—and this led to Joseph and Mary taking the baby Jesus to seek and find asylum in Egypt. Of course, we know that Jesus faced resistance from church and political leaders, all the way up to his execution. And even at that moment, some were led to see, in his sacrifice, that truly this man was God’s Son.
Regardless of how and when individuals came to recognize God in Jesus, we as Christians do believe that Jesus’ appearance on Earth was God’s ultimate method for helping us to know and return to God. We also believe that the world continues to need to find God today—and how do they do that? Jesus no longer walks the earth as an individual, but is manifested in every church, acting as the body of Christ for every time and place where the church lives out God’s mission.
That means you!
So your church embodies Jesus, God’s will for salvation, for your community in our time. Is it enough that your church was started? Or that others, even strangers, are attracted to God through you? Or that your people are claimed, cleansed, and empowered through baptism to serve God? Or do the faithful actions of your church—like praying for healing and forgiveness, feeding the homeless, standing up for the powerless, and any number of other miracles of faith—get the attention of the world, making people wonder at the power and mercy of God? Does that faithfulness sustain you even in the face of criticism, reaching all the way to your very existence as a church body?
Happy Epiphany, and happy 2020. May we live out this year, remembering that in the life of the church, as we reflect the love of God for the world, every day can be Epiphany Day.
Our first Presbytery meeting of 2020 is next Tuesday, January 14, 7 pm, at Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena. There will be two pre-Presbytery meetings, starting promptly at 6 pm, for people who have questions about the proposed dismissal of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church to ECO, or the recommended amendments to how San Gabriel Presbytery defines minimum pastoral compensation for the pastors of our churches. We will also have the opportunity to examine and bless Candidate Peter Hawisher, who has been called to Radford Presbyterian Church in Virginia.
And remember to register for WinterFest, February 8, 9-2:30, at Arcadia Community Church. You can register at https://knoxpresbyterian.breezechms.com/form/Winterfest2020
Scroll down for other upcoming events, like the Homeless Count (required orientation session January 13), and a workshop on worship music, February 21-23, at Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena.
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
This last Saturday was our annual WinterFest training event, which continues to be the largest and most vibrant gathering of the presbytery each year. I give thanks to the Education Committee – chair Jennifer Ackerman, Sophia Alecci, Ally Lee, Pat Martinez-Miller, Deborah Owens, and staff Jake Kim – for their excellent planning and coordination for WinterFest.
This last Saturday we heard from Jake Mulder, director of the Fuller Youth Institute, who gave some encouraging data on ways that churches can connect with young people. Actually, some of what he shared sounded like advice that helps us connect with any group who are underrepresented in our churches-make the effort to reach out, don’t make assumptions that block you from real connections and care, make a commitment to Jesus and to neighbors and young people, and offer them respect and leadership opportunities. At least this is what I heard-for the real content, go to Fuller Institute.
For myself, I got some new perspective on San Gabriel Presbytery on Saturday.
Marking our 50th anniversary as a separate presbytery (we were formed when the Los Angeles Presbytery was split up on January 4, 1968), we shared with each other memories of the last 50 years, gifts and values we hold dear, and hopes for the future. We remembered those who passed into glory in 2017, including San Gabriel members Bob Linthicum, Don Berns, Deane Hendricks, and Gayle Beanland, as well as dear friends Ed Tanng, Art French, Hazel Harken, Gordon Douglass, and Art Edwards. Let us gather this weekend to celebrate the lives and ministries of Art French (Friday at 2 pm at Pasadena Presbyterian) and Hazel Harken (Saturday at 3:30 pm at Westminster Gardens).
We looked at who we are now, with the representation report for 2017, including the statistic that our presbytery leadership is 39% people of color-which is closer to our full membership than I had thought, so that’s good news. Our Justice Peacemaking and Mission Committee began to fulfill their two 2018 priorities (stewardship of Creation and immigrant justice and advocacy) by introducing the use of compostable supplies at meals, and presenting the General Assembly overture “On Responding to the Current Syria Crisis,” endorsed by our Claremont and Knox churches, to advocate for a ceasefire, reconciliation, care for the suffering of the Syrian people, and to deepen our relationships with Syrian Christians. Several of our churches are actively involved in connecting with Syrian churches and/or helping Syrian refugees, so the Presbytery decided, after some lunchtime discussion, to approve this overture.
And there was an incidental new look at our Presbytery, as we met for the first time at our new Presbytery Center in Temple City. It seems that Presbytery members were comfortable in their new home base, and enjoyed the hospitality of the shared ministry partners at the Center – Mideast Evangelical Church, who led the morning worship and offered breakfast (and whose gifted leaders supervised the renovation of the Sanctuary and installation of the video and sound system); Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who led the afternoon worship and helped with lunch; and Playfactory Preschool, who helped with registration and lunch (including making cookies!).
Thanks to Jennifer Ackerman, who planned a worship service that incorporated the languages of the Presbytery Center hosts (Arabic, Taiwanese, and English), as well as the other main languages of the Presbytery (Spanish and Korean). It was fun to sing in Taiwanese-and it occurred to me that Taiwanese may be the language that is spoken by more of our members, after English. Because of that, I was so happy that we could receive not only retired pastors Huw Christopher and Martin Miller-Hessel, but also our friend and Stated Clerk (and now transitional pastor for Westminster Temple City) Diane Frasher, AND the young and gifted Taiwanese pastor Yanchih “Yank” Lee, who will start at Shepherd of the Valley on April 1. Our offering went to help with the rebuilding of the Presbyterian Church in Joquicingo, Mexico, after it was destroyed in the 2017 earthquake. We received $850 on their behalf; if you would like to contribute please send in checks to the Presbytery by the end of this month. The offering was introduced by Margarita Reyes, who grew up in that area.
Finally, we have reason to hope for the future, as we see new and renewed leadership with Becca Bateman as Moderator of the Presbytery, Roberto Ramirez as Vice Moderator, and new leaders such as Education members Sophia Alecci and Ally Lee, and newly-elected Bong Bringas (Committee on Representation and Nominations), Karen Sapio (Vision and Strategy), Mark Carlson (Personnel), and Karen Berns, Tony Garcia and Frank Hsieh (CPM).
I thank God for this hopeful start to the new year, and pray that we continue to grow even closer as the body of Christ for San Gabriel Valley.
Praying for a life-giving 2018,