The Presentation: God’s Answer to Our “Where is the God of Justice” Questions

Sermon delivered on the Feast of Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 31, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-5; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; St. Luke 2.22-40.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple. This is the day when Mary and Joseph came to the Temple to complete Mary’s purification process (cf. Leviticus 12.1-8) and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, where they offered Jesus as holy (set apart for service) to the Lord (cf. Numbers 3.40-51). Both were prescribed by the Law of Moses and neither ritual was unique to Jesus. This feast day also came to be known as Candlemas, or the Festival Day of Candles, in which the priest would bless candles for use in the local church for the coming year and would occasionally send some of them home with his parishioners for them to use. It is one of the earliest known feasts to be celebrated by the Church.

Candlemas falls 40 days from the birth of Jesus because that is the day Mary would have completed her purification process as prescribed by the Law, which means that Candlemas always falls on February 2 (we are transferring it to today to celebrate it). It is also the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox and before there ever was a Groundhog Day (also observed on February 2), tradition held that when Candlemas fell on a sunny day, there was more winter to come. But when it fell on a cloudy, wet, or stormy day, it meant that the worst of winter was over. For you Christmas junkies out there, tradition also holds that any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5) should be left up until Candlemas and then taken down. Candlemas also officially marks the end of the Epiphany season, a season in which the Church celebrates Christ as being the light to the world, and so it is particularly appropriate for us to celebrate today with the blessing and lighting of candles. Now that you’ve had your history lesson on Candlemas, I want us to look briefly at what this feast might mean for us as Christians living in the 21st century.

What are we to make of the strange scene (to us anyway) St. Luke paints for us in our gospel lesson? To understand the significance of what is unfolding before us and what Simeon and Anna prophesied, we need some background. As our psalm lesson proclaims very clearly, ancient Israel believed that God was and is Creator of heaven and earth, the dimensions where God and humans respectively dwell. Israel believed that while God was actively and intimately involved in his creation and the lives of his creatures, especially his human image-bearing creatures, God was present in a very special way to the people he had called through Abraham to bring God’s healing and blessing to a sin-ravaged world, first in the Tabernacle that God directed Moses to construct as God’s people wandered 40 years through the wilderness on the way to the promised land, and then later in the Temple Solomon had constructed in Jerusalem, the place where heaven and earth intersected. This meant that God expected his people to be holy, called out and separate from other folks (the Gentiles) to act in godly ways so that God’s people could embody God’s goodness, blessings, and healing presence to a world that desperately needs it. When you are in the presence of the King you are expected to act accordingly.

But Israel had failed in its call to bring God’s healing love to the world, a failure that resulted in God abandoning his Temple in Jerusalem and withdrawing his special presence from his people. God’s people were subsequently conquered and exiled, a horrifying and unthinkable fate for most Israelites. The Temple had been rebuilt after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC but God’s Presence had not returned to the Temple as promised. This was the situation in Jesus’ day and the context for our OT lesson. In the verse immediately preceding, the people of Israel had asked impatiently, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2.17). In response, God told them through his prophet that God would indeed return to clean house, starting with God’s own people who failed to live up to God’s call to be his people, and they had better repent before the Lord’s return; otherwise they would be in for a very unpleasant surprise, just like unrepentant Christians will be when Christ returns to finish his work (cf. 1 Pet 4.17). 

Malachi wrote approximately 400 years before Christ and when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple to be consecrated, God’s people were still waiting for God to fulfill his promise to return to them and dwell in his Temple to deal once and for all with all the wrong and injustices that plagued God’s people and the rest of the world. 400 years! That’s a long time to wait and God’s people despaired and became impatient. Why hadn’t God returned to fulfill his promise? We get this dynamic because we look around our world today and see that things haven’t changed that much. Evil and sin run rampant to despoil God’s world and our lives. We see injustices of all kinds. As a nation we have rarely been this divided and chaos seems to be the order of the day. Others, especially the geezers among us, are astonished at the sea change that has occurred in our lifetime. We see our culture systematically setting aside the Christian faith in favor of all kinds of bizarre and perverse thinking and ideologies, becoming post-Christian in its media, its educational institutions, its legal arrangements, its political rhetoric, its moral discourse, and even in some of its churches. Like the ancient Israelites we too want to know where is the God of justice? What has happened to the nation and culture in which we grew up? Throw in the pandemic of the century and it all makes us afraid and causes some of us to lose our faith and hope. Where is God in it all? Why isn’t God doing anything about the chaos in his world?

And now we are ready to hear what St. Luke and the author of the letter to the Hebrews have to say. In reporting Christ’s presentation at the Temple, St. Luke is telling us that here we see God fulfilling his promise to return to his Temple and people, but not in the manner they expected! Israel (and we) expected a conquering Messiah to appear, destroying all God’s enemies and those who oppressed Israel (in Jesus’ day that would have been the Romans). That same Messiah would also cleanse the Temple of all impurities and evil practices perpetrated against God by God’s priests and people. Instead we see God returning as a helpless infant to be consecrated as holy to the Lord as all first-born male children in Israel were, tipping us off to the real nature of our rescue—through apparent weakness and humility. Notice carefully the trinitarian nature of this story as St. Luke relates it. We see the Father returning to his people to fulfill his promise to be their God and always dwell with them, especially after he had purged the evildoers from among his people. We see God the Son being consecrated for this great task: God become human to rescue and heal his people. And we see God the Holy Spirit leading the faithful prophets Simeon and Anna to proclaim this strange but astonishing thing that God is about to do for them and the world in and through Jesus. The long-hoped for Messiah had indeed appeared to fulfill the promises of God, but many missed it because his appearance violated their expectations. Simeon and Anna on the other hand were enabled by the Holy Spirit to recognize Christ for who he is and in the process found real peace, God’s peace, a peace that passes human understanding. When we realize God always fulfills his promises, no matter how long it seems to take, there is always real peace for us to help us live our days in the midst of chaos. 

But God’s plans and desires are far greater than ours. Not only had God’s Christ come to rescue God’s people, he had come to rescue the Gentiles as well! This would have been deeply offensive to many of God’s people—just like many of us are offended when we think God might actually find favor with people we despise—but it always was part of God’s promise to Abraham. God is the God of all nations, not just some, and God had called his people for just this purpose. But God’s people had failed in their task because they were as broken as the people they were called to help God rescue. So here St. Luke is showing us in this poignant scene that God himself comes to be the one true and faithful Israelite who will save God’s world. 

And how will the Lord do this? We get a hint in Simeon’s warning to Mary and a clear explanation from the writer of our epistle lesson. Christ came at just the right time to address the root problem: human sin and the Evil it unleashes. Sin, of course, also leads to death and it is our common fate because we all have sinned. So if God the Father was going to break the power of Sin, Evil, and Death over us, God had to become human to die for us as the writer of Hebrews explains. St. Paul tells us likewise in his letter to the Romans when he tells us God took on our flesh to condemn our sin in the flesh so that God would not have to condemn us (Rm 8.3-4). This meant that Jesus Christ was not going to fight the dark powers on their terms. He was going to fight them on God’s terms, agreeing to become human so that God could spare those who believe God’s promise from suffering his final terrible judgment on all who fail to repent and believe God’s promises. This meant that the power of God would be shown mainly in the way of suffering love revealed supremely on the cross. This was the sword that would pierce the Mother of God’s heart. Her heart would also be pierced by the opposition and division that swirled around Christ. The mere presence of Immanuel, God with us, would create great opposition and division because there are sadly many who want no part of God or being in God’s presence. Even among those who do long for God’s presence, there would be conflict and division. Some would believe God was uniquely present to his people in Christ, who would be crucified and raised from the dead to inaugurate God’s promised new creation. Others would reject the Son of God, many doing so violently, believing him to be a charlatan. And as Christ warned his disciples, if they persecuted him, they will persecute those who follow him (Jn 15.20)!

Of course, Jesus Christ did not come to rescue us so that we could keep on sinning happily ever after and going on our merry destructive ways. Our OT lesson reminds us of this reality in no uncertain terms. Following Christ starts with repentance, turning from following our own selfish ways to following and imitating the living One who gave himself for us in a terribly costly act so that we would have life, not death, as our future. We are saved so that God can use us as he always intended to use humans: to embody God’s goodness, justice, mercy, and peace in the world around us, just like we will be doing perfectly when Christ returns to usher in the new heavens and earth. 

So what should we see when we see Christ being presented at the Temple? For starters, St. Luke is telling us that God is true to his word and has fulfilled his promise to return to his people to dwell among us. God never returned to dwell among his people in the Temple at Jerusalem and it was finally destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans. But God’s promise to return to his people did not fail. God did not abandon his people. God returned to dwell with his people in Christ himself, God’s living temple, who now is our one and only link between heaven and earth and who mediates God’s presence with his people as our great High Priest, constantly interceding for us to his Father. And we are called to be living stones who compose the new temple of Christ’s body, the Church. As St. Paul reminds us, we have the power and Presence of the Holy Spirit living in and among us as Christ’s people to make him known to us, to guide us in the living of our days, and to comfort and encourage us when we enter dark valleys. That is so much better than dwelling in a building! Christ’s presentation at the Temple reminds us that God loves us and is with us, even in the midst of chaos and disorder, troubling and disconcerting as that can be for us. God’s faithfulness reminds us that we can trust God’s promises to act on our behalf, no matter how long those promises take to come to fruition. Out of his great love for us, even when we were his enemies, God has returned to his world in mercy and judgment and Jesus Christ proclaims to us both the nature and character of God and his promises. We can therefore live our lives with confidence, courage, and hope. No matter how chaotic things get, no matter how bad things appear, especially when evil and madness seem to rule the day, Christ’s presentation at the Temple reminds us of the greater story of God’s plan in and through Christ’s death and resurrection to rescue his world and beloved human image-bearing creatures from all that bedevils us, especially from the ultimate evil of Death itself, and to set the world ultimately to rights so that peace and justice and love and goodness reign, partially in this age and fully in the age to come. Simply put, we are a people with a real hope and future. When we believe this, we, like old Simeon and Anna, can rest secure in God’s faithful love and power. Let us therefore encourage each other with this truth as we live out our days together as God’s people in Christ. Of course as we all know, living faithfully with courage and hope is no easy task, but nothing worthwhile ever is easy. Christ is Immanuel, God with us. When God is with us, who or what can ever really harm us? There is real peace to be had in this great Truth, my beloved. Be like old Simeon and Anna. Claim the peace that God offers you and proclaim it to others who do not know Christ. Dare to believe the promise and to live it out faithfully and boldly all your days. You will never regret it. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Father Jonathon Wylie: Water to Wine, Sign of Glory Divine

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 3B, Sunday, January 24, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all whiny and pouty when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. We don’t want that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 14.17-20; Psalm 128; Revelation 19.6-10; St. John 2.1-11.

Come and See

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2B, Sunday, January 17, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

In our gospel lesson Philip responds to Nathaniel’s caustic question about meeting Jesus by inviting him to “come and see.” That invitation still stands for us concerning Jesus. But if we looked at Jesus what would we see? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start with our OT lesson. We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in the days of old Eli and Samuel, the days when ancient Israel had no king and everyone did “whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). And we certainly get how ominous that statement really is. The word of the Lord is rare in our day as well; more and more of us are doing whatever seems right in our own eyes. As our nation increasingly rejects its Judeo-Christian heritage with its strictures, mores, and values, our nation falls ever deeper into chaos. We see it most keenly right now in the political arena and in how we think about and treat those with whom we disagree. Our abandonment of our Judeo-Christian heritage with its accompanying values is the root cause of all our problems because as we abandon God-given ways for thinking, speaking, and acting in favor of our own fallen desires, chaos descends. The word of the Lord is indeed rare in our day and people are increasingly doing whatever seems right in their own eyes, resulting in ever-increasing vitriol, invective, hyperbole, vindictiveness, and demonization that is quite simply breathtaking, and not in a good way. All this makes us very afraid. We look for God’s help and presence but apparently find none. But are we looking in the right places and for the right things? Are we allowing God to take us by surprise and rescue us in unexpected ways as he did in Samuel’s and Philip’s day? This is at the heart of both our OT and gospel lessons this morning. Instead of trying to dictate to God how God should intervene and rescue us, we are called to listen before we speak, to open our eyes and minds so that God can speak to us in the ways God chooses, not how we choose, and to respond accordingly and faithfully. When we do, like young Samuel we will know that God is present with and among us.

And now we return to our gospel lesson with its great existential invitation concerning Christ: Come and see! When you look at Jesus, what do you expect to see? A cosmic Santa Claus to give you your heart’s desires? A mighty warrior who swoops in at just the right moment like a conquering hero to rescue you from all your problems? A Messiah (Christ) who will rid you and this country of all your enemies so that all the chaos conveniently disappears? A bolt of lightning and thunderclap to smite all the evil and wrong in this world and your life? We are promised that indeed one day when the Lord Jesus returns to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection, we will have our expectations of a mighty warrior and conqueror fully satisfied. Just read Revelation 20 with its vivid language if you doubt that. God is indeed God and he will not let fallen humans and/or the powers of Evil and Sin mock him forever. But that is not what our gospel lesson is pointing to today. Here is Christ, God become man, to dwell with his people. So if we come and see, what will we see? St. John has given us hints leading up to our lesson today. He began his marvelous gospel by telling us about the eternal Son of God coming into his world and to his people to dwell or pitch his tent (live) among them as we read on Christmas Eve. St. John reaffirms this glorious truth at the end of our lesson today when he recounts that Christ told Nathaniel (and us) that we would see God’s space (the heavens) open up and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In other words, we would see heaven and earth coming together in the person of Jesus despite the fact that we don’t particularly want God to dwell with us because we are slaves to the power of Sin that has blinded us to his presence. We hid from God in the garden and we continue to hide from God today, and to our detriment. St. John also reminded us of this sad reality in his prologue when he told us that God’s own people failed to recognize God when he came to live with them as Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, when by God’s grace we do let Christ into our lives, we get glimpses of heaven meeting earth, God’s new world and Presence breaking in on us and the chaos that swirls around us. More about that anon. When you look at Jesus, do you believe this promise?

Come and see, St. John invites us through Philip. So what else do we see in Christ? As St. John has also previously reminded us, in Christ we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—our sins, our rebellion, our hostility toward God, our selfishness, our desire to do whatever seems right in our own eyes—and reconciles us to God the Father through his saving death on the cross. Here we see God’s totally unexpected and illogical grace, illogical at least according to the wisdom of the world, in action. Who dies for their enemies so that their enemies can be reconciled to them and find life instead of death? No one I know, no one expect God the Father that is. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, at just the right time Christ came into the world to die for us sinners and reconcile us to God (Romans 5.6-11). We use the word grace quite freely and casually, and in doing so I think we miss the astonishing power and reality of God’s love for us behind it. God didn’t wait until we came to our senses and realized we need God if we ever hope to have life—life defined as being more than mere biological existence. We cannot hope to live, either in this age or the age to come, without being reconciled to God and as both Scripture and the collective human experience testify, we are incapable of ending our hostility and rebellion toward God on our own. We remain unreconciled to God and dead in our sins without outside help. That help comes from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—your sin and mine—and in doing so overcomes the evil our sin generates. We aren’t told how this all works. We are simply told that it does and are invited to believe it by faith because of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection and because God promises it is true in Holy Scripture. When you look at Jesus, do you see the Lamb of God who takes away your sins and gives you life? If you do, what difference is it making in how you live and see this world and your place in it?

Come and see, St. John invites us. What else do we see in Christ? In telling us that we will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man, Christ promises us that when we see him we will see the agent through whom God’s promised new world will come into existence, a world made possible by his saving death on the cross and through his mighty resurrection, a world where the dimensions of heaven and earth come together in a mighty new act of creation greater than the act of God’s original creation to heal and restore all things. As St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, our bodies matter greatly to God. We know this because God raised Jesus’ body from the dead and will do the same for ours on the Last Day. In other words, our bodies are part of God’s good creation that God has promised to heal and redeem in and through Christ’s resurrection. So what we do (or don’t do) with our bodies matters to God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit dwells in our bodies and God has paid a terrible price to redeem our bodies from eternal death when he came to die for us and be raised again to new life (Rm 8.3-4). When you look at Christ, do you see the promise of God’s new world embodied, a world where heaven and earth are joined together and all things are made new, a world where death and sorrow and sickness and sighing and all things broken are forever abolished, a world where the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death are banished forever so that they can no longer harm or destroy us as they do now? If you don’t see this in Christ, if this is not your ultimate hope, you have missed seeing Jesus Christ entirely and are most to be pitied. This promise and all that it entails should give us ample reason to hope, even in the most desperate times. It should also motivate us to imitate God’s great love for us, even when we were his enemies, by proclaiming and inviting others to come and see Christ along with us.

Come and see, St. John invites us. What else do we see in Christ? As St. John and the other gospel writers proclaim, when we see Jesus we will see God’s Messiah (Christ) come in power and love and mercy to call us to repentance, i.e., to turn from serving ourselves to serving God and others, heal the sick, mend broken bodies and minds, raise the dead, feed the hungry, provide living water to those who desperately need it (that would be all of us), and to announce the Good News that despite our wickedness, despite all that is desperately wrong in our lives and the world around us, God the Father loves us and demonstrates his love by giving us Christ to show us these signs of God’s kingdom breaking into the midst of the chaos of his world and our lives. But it would be easy for us to miss this because as we have seen, God accomplished it all in a most unusual and unexpected way by dying an utterly godforsaken death in the most cruel and vile manner ever invented by humans. Creatures trying to destroy their Creator. What a travesty! So we need to pay attention to Holy Scripture because in it, God tells us how he has and will accomplish all that God promises. As young Samuel found God’s presence in his day, if we are willing to come and see who Jesus really is, we must start by listening before we start speaking. Only then can we start to think through the truth of these claims, both individually and together. 

When we dare come and see who and what Christ really is, it will require a response from us. Will we choose to limp along, following our own thinking and doing whatever seems right in our own eyes, or will we ask the God who seeks us out, whether we love him or not, to open our eyes so that we can begin to glimpse his glory among us in the person of Christ? Nathaniel cynically asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. Jesus would end up showing him and the rest of us that everything good could and did come out of Nazareth! God himself came to reconcile us and draw us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son so that through the Son, God could heal and restore us to be the fully human beings God created us to be. Nothing else can make us fully human, especially not the perversity that comes from doing whatever seems right in our own sinful eyes. May we all, by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, have our eyes opened to the reality of our crucified and risen Lord and Savior by living out his commandments faithfully, especially as they pertain to our bodies and the bodies of others, through the faithful reading of Scripture together, in our worship, in confessing our sins and experiencing God’s healing forgiveness, in partaking of the Holy Eucharist as a tangible sign of that forgiveness, and in our holy fellowship so that Christ becomes a dynamic and healing reality and Presence to and among us, able to sustain us, even (and especially) in these dark days. When we see Christ, may we be blessed to see the Son of God, the crucified and risen Lamb who takes away the sin of the world along with our own, and may our hope that God really is bringing in his kingdom on earth as in heaven in and through Christ and his people bless and sustain us until to see it realized in full and our blessed Lord and Savior face-to-face. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Father Jonathon Wylie: The Baptism of Jesus, Humble Way to Glory

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 1B (The Baptism of Christ), Sunday, January 10, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie has not changed his stripes for 2021. He’s still a Calvinist and he still refuses to submit manuscripts of his sermons. To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19.1-7; St. Mark 1.4-11.

The “Epiphany Proclamation” for 2021

In the days when few people had calendars, it was customary at the Liturgy on Epiphany to proclaim the date of Easter for the coming year, along with other major feasts that hinge on the date of Easter. We honor that custom here at St. Augustine’s.

“Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return.

“Let us recall the year’s central feast, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: His last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising, celebrated between the evening of the 1st day of April and the evening of the 3rd day of April, Easter Sunday being on the 4th day of April. Each Easter—as on each Sunday—the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death.

“From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the 17th day of February. Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the 23rd day of May. And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the 28th day of November.

“To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2021 (3)

Christ is God, for he has given all things their being out of nothing. Yet he is born as one of us by taking to himself our nature, flesh-endowed with intelligent spirit. A star glitters by day in the East and leads the wise men to the place where the incarnate Word lies, to show that the Word, contained in the Law and the Prophets, surpasses in a mystical way knowledge derived from the senses, and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge.

For surely the word of the Law and the Prophets when it is understood with faith is like a star which leads those who are called by the power of grace in accordance with his decree to recognize the Word incarnate.

The great mystery of the divine incarnation remains a mystery for ever. How can the Word made flesh be essentially the same person that is wholly with the Father? How can he who is by nature God become by nature entirely human without lacking either nature, neither the divine by which he is God nor the human by which he became one of us? Faith alone grasps these mysteries.

—Maximus the Confessor, Five Hundred Chapters 1, 8-13

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2021 (2)

Matthew 2:1-12

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity was now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of this divine honor! The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi would recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).

—Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 5.1

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2021

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

—Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

In this way marvel was linked to marvel: the magi were worshiping, the star was going before them. All this is enough to captivate a heart made of stone. If it had been only the wise men or only the prophets or only the angels who had said these things, they might have been disbelieved. But now with all this confluence of varied evidence, even the most skeptical mouths are stopped.

Moreover, the star, when it stood over the child, held still. This itself demonstrates a power greater than any star: first to hide itself, then to appear, then to stand still. From this all who beheld were encouraged to believe. This is why the magi rejoiced. They found what they were seeking. They had proved to be messengers of truth. Their long journey was not without fruit. Their longing for the Anointed One was fulfilled. He who was born was divine. They recognized this in their worship.

—Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7.4

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2020-21-Day 12

Today concludes the series of Christmas reflections from the Church Fathers. I hope you have enjoyed them and trust that God will use them to enrich you and bring you closer to him. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas is the day on which the Creator of the universe came into this world. This is the day on which the one who is always present through his power became present in the flesh. He came in the flesh with the intention of curing human blindness so that once we were healed we might be enlightened in the Lord. Then God’s light would no longer be shining in darkness but would appear plainly to people who wanted to see it.

—Augustine, Sermon 195, 2

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2020-21-Day 11 (3)

In the very act in which we are reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. For the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body [the Church]. As the whole community of the faithful, once begotten in the baptismal font, was crucified with Christ in the passion, raised up with him in the resurrection, and at the ascension placed at the right hand of the Father, so too it is born with him in this nativity.

For all believers regenerated in Christ, no matter in what part of the whole world they may be, break with that ancient way of life that derives from original sin, and by rebirth are transformed into new persons. Henceforth they are reckoned to be of the stock, not of their earthly father, but of Christ, who became Son of Man precisely so that they could become children of God; for unless in humility he had come down to us, none of us by our own merits could ever go up to him.

—Leo the Great, Sermon 6 for the Nativity

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2020-21-Day 11 (2)

Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal creator of all things, today became our Savior by being born of a mother. Of his own will he was born for us today, in time, so that he could lead us to his Father’s eternity. God became human like us so that we might become God.

We sinned and became guilty; God is born as one of us to free us from our guilt. We fell, but God descended; we fell miserably, but God descended mercifully; we fell through pride, God descended with his grace.

—Augustine, Sermon 13 on the Time