Well, it’s been quite a month of celebrations, hasn’t it? We’ve had all the festivities leading up to Christmas: Advent, decorating, shopping for Christmas presents, wrapping all those presents; an Advent choral service, a puppet Christmas musical, our party in the Assembly Room, caroling, a variety of mission and giving projects. We went to malls, and rehearsals, and grocery stores, to get ready. Maybe you went to “Holiday in the Park” at Twin Lakes to see the displays, to help you get in the “Christmas Spirit” – did you see those wonderful red doors and stained glass windows right near the entrance? Or maybe you drove around to find houses with elaborate Christmas displays – or maybe put an elaborate display on your own house!
And all those activities just led up to the celebration of Christmas itself: Christmas Eve worship, up past midnight, family gatherings, exchanging and opening all the presents, consuming the groceries, traveling place to place to spend time with the various branches of the family.
Christmas was barely behind us when we turned our attention to New Year’s Eve. And we made and carried out our plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations, as we moved at midnight from one year to the next.
And then there were New Year’s Day celebrations: parades, bowl games, more family gatherings, more food. Perhaps you made some New Year’s resolutions as part of your observance – things you would like to do differently, or better, or not do, in 2019. Now that we’re six days into the year, you should be getting a feel by now: how are those resolutions going? It has been quite a few weeks of celebrations, of special days, of preparations and travel and festivities and cleaning up after them . . . So many special days that maybe we could use a break now, for a while, from holidays; maybe we could use a little . . . routine.
Well, guess what. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the calendar, the church now tells us we have a couple special days left to celebrate. On the worship calendar, today, January 6 is the Day of Epiphany, a day to celebrate Jesus’ being revealed at the Messiah, the Promised One. That’s what the word “epiphany” means: to be shown, to be revealed, to be discovered. We usually tell again the story of the magi on Epiphany: wise men show up, having traveled a great distance to worship the baby Jesus, revealing that this is no ordinary child, no ordinary birth. Some churches also tell the story of Jesus’ baptism on Epiphany, when the voice from heaven reveals . . . that this is no ordinary man. And others add the story of Jesus’ first miracle too, his changing water into wine at a wedding, revealing his special abilities. The Day of Epiphany, when the divine nature of Jesus is shown.
The worship calendar of the Presbyterian Church also says that next Sunday, January 13, is a special day, Baptism of the Lord day, when we often tell again the story of Jesus’ baptism, reflect on our own baptism, note the beginning of his ministry. That day begins an informal season of the church, in which we can follow along the events of Jesus’ life, from that first day of ministry through his resurrection Easter morning. Epiphany; and “Baptism of the Lord.”
So what do you say: are you up for some more celebrations, some more special days, some more special stories and rituals and ceremonies? Or have the many festivities of Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s made you long for things just getting back to normal? “Oh please, let us get back to a comfortable routine, pick up the mess, sleep regular hours, put away the decorations, start the diet. We don’t need even one more special day, let alone two.”
Well, if it makes it any easier: Rather than thinking of celebrating two more special occasions, try thinking about the two Sundays as having a common theme: and that theme is the bringing of gifts for use in God’s service. Bringing gifts for use in God’s service.
The main story of Epiphany, after all, is about bringing gifts: wise men showing their devotion to Jesus, their recognition of his Lordship, by bringing gifts – gifts fit for a king. Jesus presenting himself for baptism is his presenting his gifts, to God and the people: “I’m ready to begin my ministry now, ready to begin my service.” He had to know, we believe, that he was heading down a difficult road. But even knowing this, he brought his gifts, to teach us about God, and to save us. And even in our communion observance today, we hear the usual mention of gifts, the gifts of bread and cup, that help us remember, and strengthen our connection with, our Lord.
If you’re a little too “celebrated out” right now to take on a couple more holidays, maybe you can at least identify with a common theme of those days in this hour: the bringing of gifts in the service of God.
And as you do, please ask yourself one more question: As I remember the long journey of the magi to bring gifts before God, as I recall all Jesus went through to bring his gifts to serve God, as I receive the gifts of bread and cup . . . what gifts do I have to bring God? Please ask yourself: what might I bring or do, to serve God and church, in gratitude for all God has done for me? Perhaps it’s teaching ability, or cooking, or friendship, or driving, or visiting, or generosity, or music, or repairs, or prayer. Perhaps we can even tie it in to those New Year’s resolutions we mentioned a little while ago: what particular gifts, and talents, and things I like to do, might I put to work for God, this year?
Would you please consider that, in line with today’s “gifts theme,” in the coming week?
And as we begin, let’s pray:
God, thank you for all your gifts to us, for gifts we have seen our fellow Christians bring to serve you, for gifts we each have which we could use in your service. Help us to faithfully do so. Amen.