Dear sisters and brothers, colleagues and friends,
First, I would like to start by wishing you all a Happy New Year and pray that God’s blessing may come upon us all and upon the whole world.
During the past days, some of us celebrated Epiphany while others celebrated Christmas, following the Julian calendar. However, we know that the date of 25 December was adopted as Christmas day much later. Up to the fourth century, the event of Nativity was referred to together with the feast of Epiphany and this old Tradition is still kept until today in the Armenian Orthodox Church where Christmas and Epiphany are celebrated together on the 6th of January.
In the East, the feast of Epiphany or Theophany is referred to in relation to the Baptism of Jesus in Jordan. That very moment gave meaning and revealed the full mystery of Nativity and the identity of the baby born in the manger. While Jesus was in the water of Jordan to be baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in form of a dove. In the old iconography, the beak of the dove is pointing like a finger towards Jesus’ head while the Father’s voice coming from the open heaven is witnessing: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Epiphany is a theophany; as God manifests and reveals fully as a Trinitarian God.
Furthermore, Christ’s Baptism in Jordan is portrayed as a cosmic event, in and within creation, in the waters. It shows that we are part of God’s creation and are to be saved and transfigured with creation. In the early Christian literature, this event is referred to as an event of re-creation, a repetition in history of the very act of creation as described in the first chapter of Genesis: there God acts through his word (Logos), and the Holy Spirit “hovers over the waters”. In Baptism, each of us has experienced the open heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of being born again as living stones in the household of God.
Following this narrative of the feasts and of their meaning, I would like to continue briefly asking what could be the spiritual message of these feasts and their importance for us today?
In the events celebrated we see the manifestation of God’s love for his creation, in and through Christ, God’s Incarnated Son. A love which is sacrificial, humble, self-emptying, identifying fully with the conditions of the ones it is addressed to, except sin and it is non judgmental.
We also see the in these feasts the meaning of the manifestation of God’s glory: laying in a manger. Outside the city. Among animals. In the arms of a young, powerless maiden. Or in the waters of Jordan, with and among the sinners and outcasts. Not among the powerful and rich nor among the religious elite of his time; not in the center. But at the periphery.
Kosuke Koyama reflected deeply on the center- periphery dilemma. The whole of Christ’s life took place at the periphery. He even died, raised from the dead and ascended to heaven from outside the city, from the periphery.
The teachings of Christ seem to also prefer the periphery over against the center; the quality over against quantity. He would imagine always his followers as a minority; as salt and light; as the mustard seed or as the yeast. Such minorities and transformed communities could act then as agents of fermentation of the whole of the dough in the oikoumene. But the transformation of the oikoumene as well as the growth of the number of the disciples was never transmitted as one of our duties. God kept for Himself that hard part of the Job. In Acts it is mentioned that God was the one who added to their numbers every day and in the Revelations it is also clearly said that the final transformation of the world into a new heaven and new earth will be God’s action not that of the humans however holy and laborious they might be.
It is not important to spend our time on looking how to place ourselves in the center and to be heard and listened to by everybody, rather to concentrate on the vision and the message we convey; people listen to and are transformed by the message one gives. Or a good message, even if it is given from the periphery could change the world to a great extent.
The impact of our work as Christians who put our trust in God, should not only consist in making endless strategies and plans but on giving a clear, motivating and convincing vision. And I will finish with a saying of Antoine de St. Exupery which I agree with and support fully: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." Give them a vision, and that will motivate them.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, our God, You have said, "Apart from me You can do nothing." In faith we embrace Your words, Lord, and entreat Your goodness. Help us, O Lord, to grasp and discern your will on the future of our work as we start a new year and prepare for the 11th Assembly. Help us see and accept those priorities that You lead us towards, so that the work You do through us may be meaningful for and with impact on the Churches and the faithful they serve and on the wider oikoumene. We acknowledge in prayer that You are our Help and Refuge and that we can do nothing right without Your guidance and help; direct us by Your wisdom and power, that we may accomplish our tasks and, whatever we will do to be according to Your divine will, so that it may be beneficial to your holy Church and to all your people. Bless us, help us, enlighten and strengthen us, Lord, so that not our will but Your will be done. Guide us to bring about fruits of goodness to Your service and glory, we diligently entreat You, hear and have mercy. Amen.
10 January 2022
Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca
Acting general secretary
World Council of Churches