Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blog @ 98 Importance of the Epiphany

Blog # 98 Importance of the Epiphany For centuries before the revision of the Church's liturgical calendar about fifty years ago, the Solemnity of the Epiphany was celebrated January 6 no matter what day of the week on the calendar January 6 would fall. At the time of the revision the committee responsible for the work of revision was so convinced of the importance of this feast they gave permission for conferences of Bishops throughout the world to celebrate it on a Sunday close to January 6 so that more of our people would have an opportunity of being present for it on a day that was normally not a work day. The history of the celebration of the feast goes back through the centuries to the very earliest years of our practice of celebrating the story of Jesus' life liturgically. It predates the feast of Christmas itself and was identified with the highest degree of importance among the feasts we celebrated by the title of a Solemnity with an octave or eight consecutive days designated for its celebration. Only Easter and Pentecost shared this high degree of recognition given the feast of the Epiphany. With all of this as a background for the feast it seems it would be a natural thing to ask why it turned out the way it did. In other words the question what is the background of the background people my age and younger experienced in celebrating the Epiphany with such high solemnity. We find footprints of the previous background all the way back to the time Jesus was physically present preaching and accomplishing His mission on earth in the original years of its history in the geography of Palestine about two thousand years ago. Born under the authority of the civil law of the Roman Empire, Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph was brought to Bethlehem to be registered in the census the governor had decreed to be taken. Born also, in the lineage of Mary and Joseph, as a child of Abraham Jesus was natively Jewish and in obedience to the Law of Moses was brought to the temple to identify and affirm His religious lineage by way of being circumcised on the eighth day of His life. For about thirty years Jesus lived in obedience to the law of Moses as a faithful Jew. Then on the occasion of His baptism among sinners in the Jordan River by John, which we celebrate liturgically this coming Sunday, a new era in the history of the world and religion began. The story takes on a radical shift. Jesus begins to preach and teach, to speak and act as only God should do. He makes claims for Himself that would be blasphemous if they were not true. People were divided in their response to Him. For some He should be done away with as a blasphemer. With others He should be believed, identified as Emmanuel, God-among-us, the promised Messiah, obeyed and worshiped as the Son of God. God revealed to Abraham the reality of a single God, the Creator of all that exists. The message of Jesus was radically different though well rooted in the faith that was handed down from Abraham. Baptism would fulfill and then take the place of circumcision as the sign of one's official entrance into the People of God, those who in a single community of believers would inherit in the name and under the authority of Jesus the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven. The gift of circumcision welcomed those who received it into the circle of God's friends. The gift of Baptism entailed a new substantial identity as children of God, actually sharing God's divine life in Jesus as branches share the life of a vine. Though stemming from the same faith of Abraham circumcision and Baptism were essentially different in their identity and effect. Some of the first Christians who had been faithful Jews were understandably convinced that anyone who wanted to become a Christian would have to be circumcised according to the law of Moses before being Baptized according to the plan laid out by Jesus. Peter himself experienced this as a problem and eventually had trouble convincing his followers that circumcision was no longer necessary. To retain it would be something like keeping ice in an electric refrigerator to keep the contents cold and not havng the refrigerator plugged in to an electric source. This blog has been long and demanding of attention so I will leave the job of tying it all in with the importance of the Feast of Epiphany in the early Church for another blog tomorrow. May the Lord bless you! Thanks for reading this far!

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