It is in this period at and after the Feast of Epiphany that the ramifications of Christmas unfold. On the Feast of the Nativity, is it God Himself who comes to us through his Blessed Mother as the true Gift for us, bringing the presence of lowly shepherds and the music of the highest order of angels together as one great to God’s work of love among us. It is early Christmas that we experience the almost “knee-jerk” reaction that came from them. The wonder and joy produces by the revelation that the Giver-of-All has become a Gift-to-All. Joy to the World! Gloria in Excelsis Deo! The hymns practically write themselves in early Christmas.
It is in this later Epiphanytide that we witness less the immediate and more the measured response to the Gift-to-All. I note that the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child are extraordinarily thoughtful. They not only offer gifts of great value, but also great meaning. In fact, their offerings are practically poetic in their density of meaning. It is only the beginning to think of the gold as recognizing Christ’s kingly calling, the incense as His priestly calling, and the myrrh as His calling to die for love of us. The connections made will proliferate differently in each Epiphany sermon. So these offerings go beyond allegory into mystagogy (religious depth beyond all kinds of speech). And then, the Magi present not just these material gifts to Christ, but their entire selves, journeying far and through great peril to make it there and back again for His sake. They give their all, and they nearly lose their lives in the process. It seems that this represents a pattern for all of us to recognize:
Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”-Mark 8
What does it mean for us to respond in a meaningful way to God after such enormity? This is not only “What do you give to the one who has everything?” This is giving to the one who gave us Existence itself. God gave us all, and then gave us His all (his life), and finally (dreadfully) asks us to do the same. What are we supposed to do now?
Far be it from me to tell you what is usually hard-won and diligently prayed-for knowledge. But I do know that that answer for your life will rhyme, so to speak, with Christ’s life. And I do believe that our liturgy at Saint Thomas helps us to know more about that Life. And our shared community provides us all with the avenue to enter in to a supremely measured response to God’s giving. We share in a grand response to God’s love that has been crafted and developed over centuries by some of the greatest theologians and artists, a great multi-year cycle of sacred drama music in which we are participants, not merely observers.
All the more reason to make every effort during this pandemic to ensure that we can keep participating in this virtuous cycle of giving and response, safely but regularly. We still have so very much to discover in making our lives just as measure a response to God as our liturgy, just as thoughtful a gift as the Magi’s!
Grace and peace to you this Epiphanytide as we grow together, day by day, evermore becoming the gift that God made us to be.