JOPLIN, Mo. —
One dares not venture into unknown waters without a map. There is no grand structure without a foundation. There is no life without breath. There is no faith without revelation.
Revelation is self-revealing. Incredibly important to Christianity is the idea that God has revealed and continues to reveal who He is and what He is about (I understand God is a gender-neutral identity, that God is "spirit," but this is not the time for that discussion).
Sunday past was Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany, for most of us in the West, is recognized on the sixth day of January. The term "epiphany" is derived from a Greek word meaning "manifestation" or "revelation." Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas.
Ideally, Christmas does not end on Christmas day, as it does in our culture. Advent ends on Christmas day, and, with the birth of Christ, the celebration of Christmas begins. Epiphany, for many Christians, is the end of Christmas. The emphasis on this last day of Christmas is "epiphany," the manifestation of God.
This manifestation, or revelation, is essential to the Christian faith.
We know Christ to be God, only because God revealed it to be so. The customary text considered on Epiphany is Matthew 2:1-12, which tells the story of the Magi, the three wise men.
Several truths about God come to us through this story. These truths are central to our lives, but our response to these manifestations is up to us. It is most important to note that our language falls short in describing the meaning of these truths. But we must try, mustnÕt we?
Bethlehem itself speaks to us about the nature of God. Lowly Bethlehem would not be our choice for a grand announcement. Our selection would be a city of evident prosperity and power. It would be large and influential.
But meek, mild and lowly Bethlehem was enough for God.
A second truth in our story is that God draws us with "hints" and "signs." Signals form with what author Phillip Yancey describes as "quiet nudges."
Like the star that led the wise men, God is not easily discernible. Only a few saw the star as did the Magi. You have to want to see God.
The Magi were not simpletons. They were not religious fanatics who fell for every little scary omen. They were "wise men," not magicians.
In the East, these wise men were educated, recognized leaders. Many of them believed in and sought after God. And these three came.
Another manifestation is that God is for everyone. Welcomed at the manger were the lowly shepherds who smelled of sheep manure and camp fires.
Welcomed at the manger were the wealthy whose clothing was tailored and whose gifts reflected prosperity.
Most significant is that these Magi were the first Gentiles to come see this child. They are the spiritual ancestors of us who are Gentile Christians.
Finally, meeting Christ leaves us altered, different people. As the Magi left "for their own country by different roads" to avoid Herod, so are our lives deeply changed after meeting Christ. The Herods we must avoid have different names but are equally dangerous.
The commercialization of Christmas surely qualifies as a modern-day Herod, which threatens the very life of Christmas.
Another such modern-day Herod is "ideological warfare," wherein Christians fight with one another over doctrine. In Christ, theological conservatives, liberals and moderates need to be walking the same road.
As we leave this Christmas season, can we not find roads that avoid these and other modern-day Herods? I believe we can. I believe we must.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com.