GSFA Devotional: Bread for Our Journey
11 Jan 2023 (Epiphany 1 )
EPIPHANY : The Light That Shines Beyond Christmas Lights
“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.” Is 62:2
“When do we take down the Christmas tree lights?” the children asked . The mother , who was a Vicar’s daughter, replied “on Epiphany day.”
‘Epiphany’ means the manifestation of the Lord’s glory. The word is often used to describe a moment of spiritual awakening . In the Church’s usage, the term is used to refer to the manifestation of the glory of the Christ-child to the Magi (astrologers , experts in interpreting dreams , portents & signs, ‘wise men’) who came from the East to pay him homage (Mt 2:1-12). The day is fixed in the Church’s calendar on January 6th.
Christmas tree lights and decorated streets, rightly understood, express the joy of Christ’s incarnation and the salvation He brings to the world as ‘God in the flesh’. Epiphany, on the other hand. reveals to us the enduring quality of the light that Jesus Christ brings … that it is not razzle-dazzle festival lights at a particular time of the year but that it is a powerful light that keeps on shining (Jn 1: 5) because of who Jesus is and the new society He has created by His death & resurrection.
“Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”, the Magi asked as they arrived in Jerusalem. It put fear in Herod the Great who was ruling Judea then. For Herod was a pretentious , grandeur-seeking and oppressive leader. In contrast , the prophecy Matthew quotes from the Old Testament (Mic 5:2 which he combines with 2 Sam 5:2) describes God’s anointed King as a ruler who will shepherd God’s people . Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is the true King of the Jews – the One promised by God and validated by his great love as the Shepherd par excellence for his people.
Matthew wants us to know further that the reign of Jesus as King will extend to the nations. That is why it is so significant that it is learned people from the Gentile world who are among the first to recognise the special identity of Jesus and honour Him with gifts (gold, frankincense & myrrh) befitting a King. The Magi received the grace to shed their assumptions and expectations of a ‘royal’ birth . Hence, they were able to accept that the young child in a modest home in the little town of Bethlehem would indeed be the great leader, the ‘star out of Jacob’ (Num 24:17), who would affect the course of the world. The light that Jesus would bring will shine not only in Israel but upon the nations. This is in keeping with God’s promises that the Messiah, the promised Anointed King of the Jews, would establish God’s justice & peace in the whole world (Ps 72; Is 11:1-10). And the way this will happen is by the followers of Jesus making disciples in every nation – disciples who believe in Jesus , keep his commandments , embrace His gracious rule and live for his glory (Mt 28: 18-20).
The light of Christ is to shine through the Church , the world-wide body of all who trust Jesus Christ as their Lord & Saviour. Sadly , not all who profess faith in Christ hold to his clear and authoritative teaching in the orthodox interpretation of holy Scripture. The tide of revisionism grows by the day. Not only failure in doctrine but failure in the practice of our faith. All of us fail to practise, in thought, speech & deed, what the Lord has taught us in his word. Hence, if the light of Christ is to shine brightly in our day , there is a need for the purifying and renewal of the Church today. That’s where the prophecy in Is 62: 1-3 comes in! The Lord promises to be at work among his people, the newly-constituted city of ‘Zion’ until :
“ her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness , and all the kings your glory …”
I believe that the Lord is purifying a remnant today who will set the Church & the world ablaze with the light of the saving reign of Jesus Christ. This purified remnant will grow in depth and in size during these coming days because of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Is 61:1-3). And so it will be that God’s ‘purified remnant’ will be marked by holy love , holy joy & holy zeal. No one needs to worry about ‘holy zeal’, for the zeal of the Spirit is not arrogant or divisive or violent. Rather, it is a ‘humble boldness’ with a servant’s heart that is characterized by our Lord’s ‘towel & basin’ ministry. It does not destroy others but seeks to build them up.
Because the word of God changed my perspective, I took down the Christmas lights this past Epiphany Day with renewed faith and consecration. There is a light from God that has entered the world with the birth of Christ and the light of his glory, first manifested to the Magi , will shine on through each & every age. I asked the Lord to let it shine in me and through me, my family and his Church. For I am convinced that despite the thick darkness that covers the world at this time , the light of Christ will rise upon his purified people to bring healing to a broken world and hope to the nations (Is 60:1-3) . And one day , when Christ returns in His resurrected body , all who trust and follow Him will experience that cloudless morning when he would indeed have made all things new (Rev 21: 5).
Here is an Anglican Collect , written for the season of Epiphany, that all of us can pray :
Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new;
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory ;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
The Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah
Hon Director, GSFA Secretariat
Hon Fellow, St Peter’s Hall (Diocese of Singapore)