Beloved: The Season of Epiphany at Plymouth Church
I have some travel coming up and so weekly blogging is on semi-hiatus. But I want to a little table-setting for the season of Epiphany. I want to give you a word for the beginning of 2020:
Beloved. Can you see yourself as God’s Beloved?
In Epiphany we will explore that question.
The word “Epiphany” can be a little confusing, in so far as it refers both to a day and to a season. The DAY of Epiphany—January 6—is the feast day that concludes Christmas by celebrating the coming of the magi to offer the Christ child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Since the magi are seen as stand-ins for the entire non-Jewish (Gentile) world, Epiphany commemorates the revelation of Christ to the nations.
But the SEASON of Epiphany runs from Jan 6 right up to the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday, this year, is February 26). Traditionally, the church takes the Epiphany season as a time to reflect on the revelation of Christ to the world. What, exactly, is God trying to tell us? What do we see in Jesus Christ?
This year we will focus on one word: Beloved.
On the weekend after Epiphany (January 11 and 12), we will hear the story is Jesus’ baptism. And I would argue that the key word in the story is “beloved.”
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Beloved. Ho agapeitos in Greek. You may be familiar with C.S. Lewis’ famous conversation about 4 Greek words for love. Agape—the word used here—is reserved for the highest or purest form of love, the utterly disinterested love with which God loves us. In his baptism, Jesus hears the voice of God affirming that he is God’s Beloved.
But! This is not just about Jesus. We are united with Christ in our baptism. (So says Paul in Romans 6:3 and, for what it is worth, the UCC Statement of Faith). In a real way, when we read about the baptism of Jesus, we are reading the truest truth about ourselves. For us, the heavens we opened; for us, the Spirit descended; of us, the voice of God said and still says, This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
So many voices try to tell us who we are. But one voice is decisive. We are invited to learn who we truly are.
And that invitation comes at a critical time in the life of Plymouth Church. In late January, you will be invited to participate in the listening phase of our strategic planning process. As a congregation, we will come together and do a little dreaming: what should Plymouth be about for the next five years? Which items should be on the very top of our to-do list? Who are we in this moment? And what is God calling us to do next?
I urge you to participate. Make sure that your voice, your perspective, your dreams are part of the conversation. We need you in the mix. That is how we will come to clarity.
And all of our talking and dreaming together must be rooted in a clear sense that we are also beloved of God.
THAT is who we are. And that is what we will explore in the weeks ahead.