Thursday, January 5, 2006

A reflection for the twelfth day of Christmas

ONE MORE GIFT. The final day of Christmas at last! Every day we have been keeping vigil at the manger. Every day we have been focusing on the Word become flesh. Every day we have been attempting learn what it means to be among the "ye faithful" who respond to the invitation to "come and adore him, born the king of angels." And every day we have been opening and receiving the distinctive Christmas gifts, gifts that bring the full impact of this child home to our hearts and our world. And we have one more gift to open.

TOMORROW IS EPIPHANY. Tomorrow is a new celebration, a new festival. It is Epiphany. It recalls and celebrates the visit of the Magi, or wise men, who followed a star from distant places to find the one born King of the Jews. Epiphany, which means "appearing," focuses on two things: 1) the Incarnation being announced to and made available to Gentiles, and 2) the fact that Jesus is not only born a Savior, he is born the King. I hope you will join me for one more set of readings and reflections for Epiphany. It will be something of a capstone and "sending" from this Christmastide journey.

1) I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
2) And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;
3) who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
4) suffered under Pontius Pilate,
5) was crucified dead, and buried;
6) He descended in to hell;
7) the third day He rose again from the dead;
8) He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty;
9) from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
10) I believe in the Holy Spirit,
11) the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
12) the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

PERSONAL RESPONSES. Open today's gift: the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed. Reading through the Apostles' Creed and realizing it is one of the twelve core gifts that have been included in this clandestine catechism, I make note of some personal responses.

TIME-TESTED BASICS OF THE FAITH. First, I note that this and other summaries of essential Christian faith are very under-appreciated and under-used in the Free Church tradition in which I was reared and educated. Our near total emphasis on what the heart feels all but eclipsed a heart-felt reasoning of that on which faith is based. It is apparently difficult for some to hold these two in common. Based on some fuzzy theology and all-but-heretical notions I have encountered among pulpiteers in my tradition, I have come appreciate and embrace such Biblically-rooted, time-tested declarations as the Apostles' Creed.

WHAT WE BELIEVE. Second, the Apostles' Creed is, in itself, a catechism, a carefully constructed rehearsal of some essential points of the Christian faith. It is a statement carefully worked out in early days of the church when the church faced not only external threats but internal divisions and factions. Every point of the Apostles' Creed was fiercely tested for Scriptural validity, debated, and ultimately ratified. Perhaps another twelve days (or years) should be spent unpacking each point of the Apostles' Creed (a number of resources for this can be found at a local library, the best of which is, to my thinking, I Believe: The Christian's Creed by Helmut Thielicke).

IN A WORLD AWASH WITH RELATIVISM. Finally, I note that the Apostles' Creed helps me declare my simple and profound faith in the midst of world awash with relativism, syncretism, and despair. In a world that is constantly implying that there are no constants, nothing commonly authoritative for all, nothing that isn't dispensable for the sake of practicality, convenience, or comfort, the Apostles' Creed stands firm. But the Creed also is a beckon to all who have been washed ashore by the "every wind of teaching and cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." It is an invitation to God's love for all who are overwhelmed, confused, despairing, shame-ridden, wounded, broken, and dying. As the song declares "Where cross the crowded ways of life...we hear Thy voice, O Son of man!"

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