Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas or Christmas Season? [3]

For the last time until next December, Merry Christmas!!  Oh I know it seems like Christmas was like a year ago now [hahaha ;) ].  Yet it truly is still Christmas!!! 

Again, I say this because Christmas is a season, not merely a day.  The Christmas Season, of which there are 12 days, ends today with Epiphany.  Therefore many churches will celebrate Epiphany this coming Sunday.  The distinction between the Christmas Season and the cultural way of celebrating Christmas is significant – even if someone in our culture seeks to keep a focus on Jesus.  The reality is a day can be quickly forgotten once it is gone, no matter how good it was.  Granted, a focus on a day can produce many great memories.  Yet a season – a celebration – can make more than great memories.  Indeed, it can lay a foundation for a longer lasting impact while setting the stage for godly memories to be made for generations to come. 

So what if we really worked at celebrating the Christmas Season?  Now I suppose a way many would be thrilled to do this is if we took 12 days off as opposed to one (well, all but the self-employed that is).  Yet I am not talking about 11 more days of vacation.  I am talking about continually pondering, and seeking to implement, implications of the Incarnation.  The truth that nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus came to earth and lived among us is life-altering.  The Anointed One of God, the savior, the Christ – the King, living among us…showing us how to live…bringing people into community…showing us how to love…showing us how to confront religious distortions and apathy…indeed showing us what it means to be truly human.  

Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season.  It recalls the coming of the Wisemen, or Magi, to see Jesus the toddler.  Ah yes, the King of the world…quite unassuming with skinned knees and more than a few bruises on his little body no doubt.  While we do not know for certain, it is believed these Magi came from the area of Babylon.  The significance of this blossoms when we begin to see what Matthew is showing us in his gospel in conjunction with some things in the book of Daniel.  Succinctly, Matthew is showing Jesus as King.  These Magi show up and worship the toddling Jesus as a King.  These Magi were Gentiles – i.e., not of Jewish ethnicity.  This foreshadows the inclusive nature of God’s Kingdom which Jesus came to establish.  Now let us turn to Daniel.

Daniel clearly shows the sovereignty of God despite current circumstances.  On the surface it seems the gods of Babylon have proven to be more powerful than the God of Israel, YHWH.  After all, Israel is now in exile.  Yet in chapter one verse two we read, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand…”  The “his hand” is Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from verse one.  In other words, while it may appear “old Nebby-K” is ruling and calling the shots, YHWH is truly in charge.  The reason why Israel/Judah was in exile was their lack of worship, and all it entails, of YHWH.  This makes certain scenes in Daniel beautifully ironic as God works in such ways that pagan people praise His greatness when His own covenant people did not.  One example of this is toward the end of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s encounter with a blazing hot fire (or Rack, Shack and Benny if you are a Veggie Tales fan).  After God saves these three, Nebuchadnezzar blesses their God (Dan3:28) and then says, “Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue (save) in this way.” – High praise indeed for the one true God. 

Now consider this.  Daniel and his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) had other encounters with the people of Babylon.  These encounters included the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and Chaldeans (cf. Dan2:2) – all of whom were confronted with a God more powerful than anything they could imagine.  More than likely some of these people began to worship this “God of gods and Lord of kings” (cf. Dan2:47).  Daniel tells of one like a Son of Man in chapter seven coming to the earth to receive a kingdom.  This “one like a Son of Man” is also the rock of chapter two which breaks the grand statue (representing kingdoms of the earth – including Babylon) in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to pieces.  And in Matthew’s gospel (written primarily for a Jewish audience) he shows Magi (from the area of Babylon) showing up to worship this foretold King.  This is beyond cool – this is revolutionary. 

Epiphany celebrates the “revealing” of the Christ to the Gentiles (i.e., all not ethnically Jewish).  As such it looks ahead to the reason why The Church exists – to advance the Kingdom of God everywhere for everyone.  What a fitting climax to the significance of the Christmas Season!!! 

I am certain you have heard there were three Wisemen (Magi) – e.g., “We Three Kings of Orient Are”.  Yet you will not find that number in the second chapter of Matthew.  You will find three gifts, but more than likely Matthew highlighted those three because of their significance.  At any rate, let us go along with this tradition and say the “three kings” were Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior.  A symbol for Epiphany, which is often painted above the entry door to a house in some cultures, is +C+B+M+  
The symbols are as follows: the cross (+) represents Christ, the letters (C,B,M) represent the supposed names of the (supposed) three Magi.  Added to this symbol is the year – so for us it would be 20+C+B+M+12.  Since in this symbol the letters represent the three Magi (Gentiles) who came to worship the true King let us add an accurate twist to the symbol.  [Also, I am not saying to put this over the entry door to your house – a piece of paper you carry with you, display somewhere visible to you, perhaps put in your Bible (i.e., multiple copies) will suffice.]  
Try this: write out the symbol but put in the first letter of the names of three people you know who need to submit themselves to Jesus and truly worship the King (e.g., 20+__+__+__+12).  Pray for these people regularly; ask God to continue to work in their lives, to open their eyes to His love and majesty, to work in you to speak when the time is right and show the love of Jesus at all times to them.  After all, all who are Gentiles now are those who are not a part of the people of God.  I.e., it is no longer ethnicity that makes one a child of God (thank you Jesus). 

This is an accurate focus on the implications of the Incarnation.  There are people, we all know, who need to come and truly worship the King.  Oh what a way to live out the Lordship of Jesus in this New Year. 

Merry Christmas and Holy Epiphany to you!!  May God grant us the strength to follow through with the things to which He will call us.