Rector's Ramblings January 6, 2021
Happy Inclusion Day! Actually, that’s not a thing. I made it up. Well, it’s sort of a thing. Today is the Day of Epiphany, which could be understood to be Inclusion Day in the Western Christian tradition. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holidays, with only Christmas and Easter having longer histories. While the Eastern tradition has a slight leaning towards celebrating the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan and celebrating his divinity and humanity, the West took a different path with its celebrations. Namely, by celebrating the path the wise persons from the East took to reach the Christ Child and pay him homage. Sometimes we hear Epiphany called Three Kings Day for this reason.
That focus on the “Three Kings” has a deeper meaning. It’s not that the wise folks arrived thirteen days after Jesus was born; it could have been as many as two years after he was born when they arrived. This is one way we make sense of Herod’s choice to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem under two. It could be that he knew how much time had passed since the oracles foretold the birth of Christ, or it could be that he just rounded up, so that the Roman soldiers wouldn’t mistakenly miss a child. The truth is we don’t know exactly when the kings arrived (or whether they were actually kings), so we chose a date to celebrate it (sort of like Jesus’ birthday, which is also unknown.)
Regardless of when they came, the story of the kings coming to Christ from the East sends a message that is an important one for us. Jesus was going to be the Savior of all persons, including the Gentiles, not just the Jewish people. It seems to take Jesus a bit to figure this out in some of the Gospels, and then Paul and Peter have to argue about it in the early years of the church, but the first place theologians see God’s intention that Jesus would offer salvation to everyone is because of the adoration of the Gentile Magi. Hence, I say, “Happy Inclusion Day!” This is the day that reminds us that we are part of the embrace when Jesus stretches out his arms on the hard wood of the cross, as the collect we often pray describes it.
One of the most disconcerting ironies of modern Christianity is that so many Christians still try to draw large swaths of people outside of God’s saving work. One of the consistent threads through Jesus’ teaching and ministry was to constantly erase the lines that people or the religious authorities drew between themselves and the “others.” Jesus included Gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans (and others who believed in a different God), and the Romans themselves, despite their oppressive and murderous tendencies towards God’s chosen people. Jesus teaches us that we’re all God’s chosen people now.
We humans have always drawn our lines between groups of people the same way we draw borders on maps. God sees neither the way we do. We continue to draw lines today, although we may draw them a bit differently. Sometimes we draw, sometimes we erase. Recent elections in Georgia have highlighted this. Kelly Loeffler was only the 57th woman to serve as a US Senator (and 2nd in Georgia – the first, Rebecca Latimer Felton, pictured, who served for one day, also having been appointed after a Senator died in office 100 years ago), while Raphael Warnock (as of this writing, the projected winner of his contest) will be only the 11th African American US Senator. Considering there have been about 2000 US Senators since our founding, this is pretty remarkable. I hope that on some level we can celebrate such milestones, even if the person isn’t in our political party. (Political lines are currently the thickest ones we’re drawing, even in the religious sense, but I am hopeful they will fade a bit in the coming years.)
Flannery O’Connor’s story, Revelation, is just one of many attempts to remind us that God has always leaned towards inclusion instead of exclusion. Her main character is reminded of that when she sees so many outside her lines getting into heaven, and worse yet, ahead of her! If we’re not careful, we might be equally surprised one day. Today, however, is a day to reorient ourselves to the reality that Christ came into the world for all of God’s children, which is certainly worth celebrating. Just like Christmas, Epiphany is a day of gift giving (in this case the gifts are given to Christ), when the best gift of all is still the child himself and what he means for us. Our best gift offered to Him today is our thanks and praise.
Happy Inclusion Day, and a blessed Epiphany to us all!
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Photo Credits: Three Kings, Public Domain, via pixy.org; Rebecca Latimer Felton via Library of Congress and Wikipedia, Public Domain.