I often find there are levels or strands to my spiritual life that manage to exist at the same time, even though they seem different. I was aware of two during Christmas and into Epiphany.
I came out of Advent thinking about one of the things that had been said in the third Advent group. We had been looking at John’s proclamation about the coming of the Messiah. Jesus was already alive, living and working in Nazareth. Their Messiah had come but he was not seen. In the fourth week of Advent we thought about Mary, carrying Jesus unseen in her womb, all those months but heard how the Messiah was recognised by both the unborn John and Elizabeth.
With us and yet unseen. And on Christmas night, as Advent becomes the night of the Nativity we see Jesus, the one we have been waiting for. We read Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery each Advent and at the end, on Christmas Eve one of the main characters, Elisabet, arrives at the stable in Bethlehem. Everyone she has met on her journey seems have a role in the story. Before they all leave she is told her role is to join the Holy Family in the stable. This struck me this year. I too found myself wanting to sit by the manager and gaze on God in human form, seeing anew the God who loves me. The waiting was gone. Here was the fulfilment. It felt good to be at this moment in the Liturgical year.
And there was another strand, one that seemed to jump out at me come Epiphany. Woven throughout the Christmas story and our celebration of it are reminders of Christ’s mission on earth. The homily on the radio on Christmas Eve picked up the phrase “The people in darkness have seen a bright light” and, said the preacher, on such a Holy night we celebrate the coming of the Christ child and we do this with Mass, which speaks of his Passion.
Epiphany also contains these reminders that God became Incarnate in order to give himself for the people he created, sustains and loves. The gifts are not gifts for a baby but gifts for one who comes as King and Priest, to die.
Our Saviour has arrived and we had time to adore him. Now we are waiting to see how he will bring about our salvation. The stable and the gifts the Magi bring give hints. During Christmas I was content to sit and wonder at God-with-us. Epiphany draws my focus to what will come. Jesus’ true nature is revealed. Over the next few weeks we learn more before entering into the desert. God’s emptying of himself begins at Christmas but his total self-giving, on the Cross, is on the horizon.