Sunday, January 13, 2013

Afterfeast of the Theophany

Ephesians 4:7-13 / Matthew 4:12-17

Now that the celebrations of the mystery of Christmas are coming to a close, when the few who have held on to their lights and tinsel, their creches and their cards, are conceding that Christmastide has indeed come to and end, what do we expect to see? The promises of Christmas are high. I mean here, of course, not the hopes and dreams of Christmas presents or perfect Christmas moments with the family by the tree or in front of a roaring fire. What I mean are the spiritual promises, the hope for a world transformed, a world not nearly as dark, not nearly as cold, not nearly as divided as it had been before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned. It might be quite easy to become disappointed, jaded even, by the ordinariness we know we will face when the new week begins.

Yet, in many ways, this is precisely what Jesus had prepared for us in his own ministry. When John was arrested, and Jesus came to Galilee, it might well have seemed the appropriate time for a clear sign of something new. One might well have expected that, with the friend of the Bridegroom gone, and the arrival of the Bridegroom himself, fresh from his cleansing in the river Jordan and in the desert, things would change, and change notably, radically, unmistakably. Instead, we hear from Jesus what we had heard all along from the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The same is true of the Church. In the face of so much disappointment in our fellow Christians, and especially in those appointed to lead us, although we must admit in ourselves as well, we might have hoped that the celebration of Christ shining his light in the darkness would have led to something new, something different. Instead, Peter reminds us that what we can expect, what we must expect here and now, are those same ministries the Church has always had, the same hierarchy willed by grace into the Church by Jesus Christ himself: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

The ordinary, the run of the mill, with its losses and disappointments included, is not meant to be a sign of the absence of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, Jesus' most merciful coming in Bethlehem, and his wondrous manifestation to the nations, while meant to transform the world utterly and decisively, was also to do so in and through the world as it is. It was not to save another world, a different world, that Christ came. Jesus came among us so that this world, the world we live in here and now, with all of its joys and trials, its boredom and terrors, it victories and its defeats, could come to share in his everlasting glory. Indeed, in and through the ministry of the Church, this is what he is doing even now. However, much we may fear that nothing has changed, our life in the Church, and precisely our being open to the ministry of those appointed by Christ for our edification, is precisely the occasion for that radical transformation for which we have been longing. It is nowhere else but here in the Church, no other time but the ordinary time of our lives, that will be the locus, the time and place, for the newness of life to dawn upon us, that day when we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

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