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2021: A Year of Epiphany?3 weeks ago
In his New Year Blog ReSource’s Director, Kevin Roberts, tells us why he wants 2021 to be a year of epiphany, for the churches and in his own life.
Call me old fashioned or even traditional, but I do appreciate the differentiation between the seasons of the Christian Year. Infact, call my grumbly (as my wife and family occasionally have good cause to) but I do groan when Advent is merged into Christmas is merged into Epiphany and even in our churches we blur the distinctive emphasis of these three glorious seasons of the year.
I’m all for cultural relevance, but maybe here we could be a bit counter-cultural and live in a different Story. Infact, I’m starting to think that we need the balance of the seasons to give the church a gospel shape and to prevent it slipping into a distorted emphasis on one part of the Story over another. Or, indeed, to stop it slipping into a monochrome, one-dimensional life where no one Sunday or weekday is different to the next.
We need the reminder of Advent that we are mid-Story, not yet fully there, but called to wait in eager expectation, for a glorious Ending. And we need Christmas to remind us that the Story has more than begun, that the Saviour has come, and in His coming has upended all our presumptions of what God is like and how he calls us to live. And we need Epiphany as a reminder that God shows His colours, reveals Himself to human eyes, and draws all those, without distinction, into adoring worship and the offering of all that we are and have.
These are distinctives, surely, that shape who we are and how we are to live as God’s people. And then more, as Lent leads to Passiontide, leads to Easter, leads to the Ascension, and onwards into such a rich round of annual celebrations that keeps us within the whole drama of God’s saving purposes, for us and for the whole world.
Yes, we can reduce the whole cycle to nothing more than the colour of altar frontals and pulpit falls. But it can be so much more than that if we live in the colours and let each season and its scriptures be an annual corrective to the way we live out our collective discipleship.
What I want to say as the new year begins is that I long for 2021 to be a year of epiphany. Of course, I want the emphasis of every season to be overlayed on the next and to encompass the entire year, but as we come into the season of the Epiphany I’m minded to say that I want this, please Lord, to be a year of revealing, a whole year of seeing more clearly and loving more dearly.
I long to see, firstly, what God has been doing in and through the mess of the worldwide pandemic.
We know without a shadow of a doubt that God’s involvement has never been causative. He weeps at the pain and loss and mess and sheer waste of it all, as the maker of any masterpiece will weep when beauty is scarred and spoilt and wasted, whatever the cause. And He has inhabited it all, there to be found however dark the day, because He can’t stop Himself walking amongst the mess and detritus and making Himself ceaselessly available to those He loves with such a passion.
But He has also been creatively present to make good out of bad, His Spirit brooding over the formlessness, emptiness and darkness of a pandemic that has ravaged the entire face of the planet, to shape from it something of lasting worth. I don’t say that to minimize the lasting pain that will be the pandemic’s legacy. That is part of the unfinished Story that Advent reminds us of each year. But I say it because God is unerringly good and ceaselessly at work and is always taking losses and making them into gains, and taking crosses and rolling stones away, and He can’t stop Himself creating beauty out of ashes.
We have guessed at what He is doing. The prophets have begun to speak. ReSource has even dared to write its articles and publish its blogs and say what we have begun to see, but in all honesty it has been like looking in a mirror darkly. We have seen in part, but we long to see more fully, to have clearer sight of what God has been doing for good, what the divine Potter has been making on His wheel.
How is He re-shaping the church? What is He saying to us for the church’s mission today? What new thing is He preparing to do? How will a changed church, meet a changed world, for the greater coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? Maybe we won’t see the full picture in 2021, but I’m hoping and praying that there will be some epiphany, some revealing of what has so far been largely hidden from our eyes. He will show us when the time is right.
The second epiphany that I’m hoping for in this coming year is more personal I suppose.
I’m anticipating quite a few changes in 2021, both personally and for members of my closest family. It all feels a bit fragile and risky for quite a few of us if I’m honest. But above anything else this year, in the changes and despite them, I guess the greatest longing of my heart is to see God more clearly, so that I can love Him more dearly and follow Him more nearly. That sentiment may just sound familiar!
I want, if you like, a greater revealing in 2021, as no doubt many of you reading this will also want. More than anything I want to see more of the depth and profundity and vibrance and beauty of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to journey into the depths of God, not live on the surface of such a great revelation.
That’s what I will be looking for in this next round of seasons of the Christian year. Not just to be informed and shaped by the great truths at the heart of our faith. But to be drawn into the Story and into closer relationship with its divine Author, who is its alpha and omega, its Beginning and its End.
I know that there will be many of you who share that longing, for a year of epiphany.
who by the leading of a star
manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
mercifully grant that we,
who know you now by faith,
may at last behold your glory face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.