Epiphany: a time to “Love your neighbor as yourself”
We always end the Christmas season with the story from Matthew’s gospel where Magi, strangers travelling from a faraway land by the light of a star, welcome the Christ child. They recognize him as the long awaited Messiah of Israel. Remarkably, Jesus is not only for God’s chosen people, Israel, he has come for all people. His great light which draws all humanity is the Epiphany (manifestation) of which we speak.
I have been gifted this Christmas with a garden flag that is also a kind of epiphany. It says:
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR WHO DOESN’T:
Look like you, think like you,
Love like you, speak like you,
Pray like you, vote like you,
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, NO EXCEPTIONS.
I understand the message of this sign to be that we are all so different, yet all worthy of love. This love of neighbor includes all races, affiliations, sexualities, languages, religions, and political beliefs. Often, people are divided because of these (and other) differences, but God has come for ALL people, no exceptions. In light of God’s love for diversity, we too are called to accept and respect everyone, whether we agree with them or not. It is easy to embrace the people who are like us, and more challenging to find a welcome for those we wouldn’t normally embrace. But that is the test of our love; can we love as God loves? So I have to end with a question: who is it that you have trouble accepting/loving? He/she is your neighbor—no exceptions.
God bless us all Rev Ann Marie
2021 Christmas letter
What do you like best about Christmas? I could begin to list different ways we celebrate: family, generosity, charitable giving—these would be at the top of my list. Perhaps, food, festivities, song, worship, gifts,… would be on your list of precious moments. I know that whatever you enjoy most is God’s way of speaking to your heart about the Christ child, because Jesus is the reason we celebrate at all.
However you celebrate, let Jesus be the reason for your joy. He makes God present and palpable, in real time. He entered human history to bring God near to us. Jesus is the light of God wrapped in flesh and blood. And God is for us! God is not a distant, or impersonal force or being, as some may think. I know God is for us because, time after time, God has given us messages that God deeply cares about humanity. Through prophets and preachers, God has made his voice known:
- You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. (Isa 43)
- The Lord heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147)
- God sent his son… that we might receive adoption as children (Gal 4)
So, this Christmas, throw yourself into celebration, in whatever way that you can. May you be filled with joy at the relationship you have with the God who cherishes you.
And be hopeful for the world! Even though we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and we must often wear masks, and things are not back to normal (or a new normal), there is reason to hope. God has given us Jesus to show that he is FOR US. May you celebrate this season with joy and hope. Merry Christmas!
Pastor Ann Marie
Let’s take a breather from the reflection and self-examination of Advent to get a glimpse of the joy of the coming Christmas Day. Each year at this time, I like to read the chapter on Christmas by Robert Fulghum, in his book, “All I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.” He tells the story of a Christmas visitor that gave him immense joy, reminding him to throw himself into the holiday with all that he’s worth.
Fulghum writes, “One Sunday I had been feeling short-tempered, cold, not at all full of Lord’s Day bliss. A knock comes at my door. A rather short person in a cheap Santa Claus mask thrusts out a large brown paper bag. “Trick or Treat.” Tongue-tied, I stare at this apparition. He shakes his bag at me, and dumbly I fish in my wallet and drop a dollar bill into his bag. The Santa mask lifts and there is an eight-year-old Asian kid, with a ten-dollar-grin on his face. “Wanta hear some caroling?” he asks.
I know him now. He is one of the family who the Quakers settled into the neighborhood last year– Vietnamese I think. “Wanta hear some caroling?” he asks. I nod, expecting an octet of urchins to jump out of the bushes and join him. “Sure, where’s the choir?”
“I’m it,” he says. And he launches into Jingle Bells at full lung power. He finishes with a soft-voiced, reverential singing of “Silent Night.” Head back, eyes closed, from the bottom of his heart, he poured out the last strains of “Sleep in Heavenly Peace.”
I was wet-eyes and dumbstruck by his performance. I pulled out a five-dollar bill and dropped it into his bag. In return, he produced half a candy cane from his pocket, and passed it solemnly to me. Flasking his ten-dollar grin, he turned, running from the porch, shouting, “God bless you,” and “Trick or Treat” was gone.
Trick or Treat! After I shut the door, came near hysteria– laughter, tears, and that funny feeling you get when you know once again Christmas has come to you. Right down the chimney of my mid-winter hovel, comes Hong Duc. He is confused about the details, like me, but he is very clear about the Spirit of the season. It’s an excuse to let go and celebrate– to throw yourself into Holiday with all you have, wherever you are.
“Where’s the choir? I’m it,” says he. Head back, eyes closed, voice raised in whatever song I can muster.