Epiphany marks what is technically the end of Christmas. The wise men, avoiding Herod and his schemes visit Mary, Joseph and Jesus. They mark the birth by way of tribute to the child born to be King.
Advent closes and the door opens to a new year and with it the remembrance of what Christ’s election means. Instead of being crowned a king, He moves past the crowds willing to crown Him as such. His response was wrapped in the fact that His kingdom was not of this world. His rule is like no other.
How we approach Jesus Christ, might be like that of the Shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, Mary, Joseph, His cousin John, or the Roman and Jewish officials. How we come to Christ is nothing compared to how He comes to us.
As Karl Barth rightly saw it,
‘we live by the fact that God Himself willed to be the Bearer of our contradiction, that in the full mystery of His Godhead He so deeply condescended to us. We live by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by God’s own suffering and triumph, sorrow and joy, by His original participation in the twofold nature of our being. Enduring to be what we are and as we are, He bears us.’ (CD. 3:1:382)
That in the appointment of Jesus Christ,
‘as the Bearer of creaturely existence and its contradictions, God did not in the same way will and accomplish His humiliation and death on the one side and His exaltation and resurrection on the other […] He took to His own heart very differently in Jesus Christ the infinite hope of the creature and its infinite peril.’ (ibid, p.383)
Jesus Christ is the living action of God.
‘He sees the hopeless peril of the created world which He has snatched from nothingness but which is still so near to nothingness. He sees that it cannot and will not check itself on the edge of this abyss [therefore] God Himself willed to become man, to make His own the weakness and frailty of man, to suffer and die as man, and in this self-offering to secure the frontier between His creation and the ruin which threatens it from the abyss. God is gracious to man and woman.’ (ibid, pp.383-384)
Thus Barth adds,
‘we cannot stop at the suffering, death and burial of Jesus Christ. This is not the final word. The cross is followed by the resurrection, humiliation by exaltation, and the latter is the true, definitive and eternal form of the incarnate Son of God. This is the Yes for the sake of which the No had first to be spoken’. (ibid, p.384)
We stand in ‘defiant confidence’ not because we ‘cling to an idea of God, but because that confidence has its origin and object in God’s self-revelation’ (ibid, p.380). We don’t construct God, in Jesus Christ, He confronts us with the truth about Himself. Any response to this that is neutral or indifferent is, according to Barth, ‘of radical and genuine ungodliness’ (ibid, p.379).
For ‘Christian faith sees and knows what it holds. It does not need to persuade itself of anything. It has nothing to do with a tense clinging to the consequences of an idea or a laboriously constructed concept of God.’ (ibid, p.379)
Reason dictates that if God has revealed Himself to humanity, like those wise men, we should follow and respond in gratitude and obedience to that knowledge. As risky as the journey is, and as limited as we might be in being able to comprehend it completely.
For 2018 may epiphany mark for you a return to this defiant confidence, not because it proudly boasts of its own ideas or because it rests on human constructs of what and who we think God is, but because in the freedom given to us in Christ’s incarnation, under God’s grace, you find His “Yes” to you, and then by the light of that, your own “Yes” to the Him. The One who was, who is, and is to come.
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)
Barth, K. 1945 The Doctrine of Creation, C.D. Volume 3 Part 1 Hendrickson Publishers, 1958
Photos excluding heading image: RL2018