Every year, my extended family makes a point of getting together to celebrate “Little Christmas” or Epiphany. It is great to have everyone together to celebrate family. These days, I am not sure how many people know that there really are twelve days of Christmas, or that “Little Christmas” or Epiphany actually exists at the end. Epiphany is the Christian feast day that celebrates the visit of the Magi (the three wise men or kings) who followed the star that led them to where Jesus was, prostrated themselves in homage, and offered their gifts to the new King. Epiphany is from a Greek word that means manifestation or appearance. As we socialize, watch football playoffs, and eat our appetizers and peppermint stick ice cream pie, the idea that God would reveal himself to us through his Son taking on flesh and being both divine and human, should move us beyond words each and every year.
If we think about it, what does Jesus becoming human actually mean to us as we go about our busy lives?
Let us make them in our image: When God created man and woman, he said the words, “let us make them in our image.” Jesus, taking on flesh, lets us know that image in ways that we could not have known otherwise. Through him, we know that there is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know that he is three persons (Trinity) in one God. As hard as that may be to comprehend for even the greatest human minds, the key may be in seeing and knowing God as a community of love, and existing only in loving relationship. That should be a clue to each of us is that the only thing that really matters in life is found in our relationships with God, with ourselves, and with others.
Unconditional and Merciful: From the beginning of man, God has been there with a covenant of love (think of the commitment of marriage) with his beloved – us. He has loved us unconditionally with a love that never fails, never disappoints, and never dies, yet, time after time, we have dismissively turned our backs to him and chosen our own plans over his. God is an infinite being and our injustice against him is itself infinite, making it greater than man himself could repay. In Christ, who is both divine and human, redemption by man was made possible because of his divine nature. As Jesus stood, beaten and unjustly charged, next to Barabbas, the true sinner, he took his place on the cross as he does for each of us. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus taught us that God is a loving father, always waiting and always ready to embrace us in love and forgive us with his endless mercy. This is not about what God needs or about punishment of us, but about a loving Father knowing what his children need and always wanted them to find it.
Total self-gift: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The greatest gift Jesus gave us was himself. In that gift, he showed us the depth of God’s love for us and a way to see and know our true selves. Jesus held nothing back in his total self-gift in love to each one of us. In that gift, he not only defeated death and took on the sins of the world on himself to give us everlasting life, but he showed us that we can only know our true selves through our own total self-gift to others, in acts of unconditional love and forgiveness to other, and in our relationships with others and with God himself. The Christ is the perfect example for us to imitate to know who are and to have the freedom to live as God intended.
Next Christmas, as we are running around trying to get everything ready for the day, we should take time to celebrate the full twelve days, including Little Christmas, and to realize just how great a gift of love that we have received in Christ. Let your children know, and let yourself know, just how beloved we all are by an awesome God.