It’s been said that “Nothing packs up and leaves town quicker than the Christmas spirit.” But since today is the actual 12th day of Christmas I thought we should honor this special time by holding onto the holiday spirit just a little longer.
But instead of talking about 12 drummers drumming or a partridge in a pear tree, I’d like to look at Christmas through the lens of epiphany, which the church officially celebrates tomorrow. An epiphany by definition is a sudden revelation. But to the Christian churches it’s a religious holiday that celebrates the divine revelation of Christ to the Gentiles as defined in the story of the Magi, or the baptism of Jesus.
Epiphanies happen not just in angels, stars, babies, and water, but in ordinary moments like holding a hand, or watching a sunset or driving to work. They can pop up immediately or gradually appear over time. For Christians epiphanies are given to us by God, to awaken us to the mysteries of God in Christ. I think our scripture today speaks to those points and gives us a new vision of who God is, and who we are as created beings in Christ.
Ephesians is a wonderful letter that was written as a call for Christian unity, and to be holy and right before God. Years ago, when I read these opening verses, I had an epiphany. Dare I say one that was divine, profound, and life changing. Yet it’s so simple I almost overlooked it. What was it? God chose me. I am loved and valuable to God who has blessed us all in Christ. Talk about a revelation!
When I feel alone or get down on myself for messing up, I have these words to remind myself that I’ve been chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. I’m not making this up to feel good about myself. I already feel good knowing this was God’s plan for you and me since the very beginning. To understand that I am ‘in’ Christ not only changes the way I see myself, but it also encourages me to move beyond myself to become a larger part of God’s eternal vision.
The expression ‘en Christo’ or ‘in Christ’ occurs 216 times in Paul’s letters alone. According to Richard Rohr, ‘en Christo’ is “Paul’s codeword for the gracious, participatory experience of salvation.” As Rohr points out, “We’ve never been separated from God.” Instead we’ve been “living inside this cosmic identity” that has already been put in place. God chose us long before we chose God. This not only saves us, but it drives and guides towards true Christlike transformation. “We are all in Christ, willingly or unwillingly, happily were unhappy, consciously or unconsciously.”
By this revelation, I take Paul at his word, that we all possess the power to live holy and rightly before God “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”
Now spiritual blessings are different than material ones. A person may have great material wealth yet be bankrupt when it comes to the spiritual blessings of joy, peace, wisdom, contentment, or just being in a right relationship with God. As we move into a new year and decade, I looked back over the last ten years to see what I accomplished. I changed careers, learned Greek and Hebrew, earned a Masters of Divinity while beating cancer, got ordained, moved my family across the country to lead my first church, and then back here, to plant and shape this new church. I may not have attained much material wealth along the way, but spiritually I feel rich beyond measure. While going through some great challenges, it was hard to see what God was doing. But because God chose me, I am always alive in Christ. And I am free to live this way or not.
Too many of us waste life trying to obtain things that are worth much less than the spiritual blessings God already gave us in Christ. We chase after meaningless things so we can keep up with the Jones; we sell ourselves short to belong to some group or team or tribe; we seek to have more likes, more followers, and to build up an image that lives or dies by other people’s opinions. Obtaining wealth, being a part of things and enjoying a good life is fine, but God has greater plans for you and me.
Before the earth’s foundations were set into motion, “God had settled on you as the focus of his love.” God didn’t just choose you for his team, but God built a team around you. Before the very first sunrise ever appeared, God adopted you to be his beloved child. Let that sink in. God knows everything about you and chose to accept you for who you are – rich or poor, sinner or saint – you’re already on the best team. We are no surprise to God. He knew what he was getting into with us. Instead of throwing in the towel with disappointment because of our inability’s, God came to be with us, as one of us.
I want you to say out loud, “I am a beloved child of God. I am worth more than any earthly treasure.” This should be our mantra for the new decade?
To borrow from Henri Nouwen “If you dare to believe that you are beloved before you are born, you may suddenly realize that your life is very, very special.” Because God chose us In Christ, we are redeemed and made holy, blameless, and consecrated. By being ‘en Christo’, we live with God in love without reproach. What’s really cool about this is we don’t have to feel guilty and ashamed about our weaknesses and our faults. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.
British journalist and renown atheist, Marghanita Laski, made an amazing confession on TV once when she said, ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness.’ She added, rather sadly, ‘I have no one to forgive me.’ In her statement lies Paul’s great epiphany – that in Christ, God has done for Laski according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
It’s that grace, in my humble opinion, that God reveals the single most important blessing in Christ. Grace is both the power and the vulnerability of God made manifest in Christ; not just for our sake, but to the entire order of the cosmos. I can’t imagine life without grace. Think about it, sick days wouldn’t exist, being late to an appointment would be unforgivable, and every bad thing you ever did would forever define who you think you are.
Because of God’s grace, we need not hold on to our past but only move forward and closer to God. So what I want you to know is that: In Christ, we have God’s grace. In Christ, we have God’s peace. In Christ we are united to God’s perfect love. If we believe God is love, then we need to seek and find this love in and all around us; and to share that love in all our wonderful and difficult relationships, responsibilities, and circumstances.
It’s up to us to claim the truth – God chose us…and we are loved no matter what. This is where our faith comes into play. Faith is how we are able to see God’s will for us. I like to say we have faith in Christ so we can have the faith of Christ. By faith we are able to see others with Christlike eyes, and love our enemies with a Christlike heart.
As faithful children of an all loving God, it’s up to us to share this good news to help others know who they are. As God’s children we too are a people of forgiveness and reconciliation, called to heal ourselves and others with God’s love. We are called to be united, to tear down the walls between us and our neighbors. We are called to seek peace and to stand up for justice and fairness, and to live in Christ as Christ lives in us. How blessed are we, and every other human being, to belong to the same God of Love who chose to be with us and to dwell in us.
As you leave here today, I encourage you to receive God’s love and to relax in it. To sit and breath in God’s love as you exhale the mantra, “I am a beloved child of God. I am worth more than any earthly treasure.”
As we move from Christmas to the New Year, let us not worry about you’ve done but what you can do not, today, knowing what God has already done for you in Christ. It’s in this grateful place that God transforms you in the most unexpected ways. Awakening in you an epiphany, for others to discover who they are…in Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord God, with a grateful heart we give ourselves up to your love and to your will. Send us out into the world to be in Christ, and to be little Christs to those whose hearts need to be awoken.
Nouwen, Henri. You Are The Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. Convergent Books: 2017.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How A Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe. Convergent Books: 2019.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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