Epiphany and epiphanies

Today is Epiphany!  Have a merry and happy Epiphany!  It isn’t just about the wise men.  It’s the beginning of a whole season in which the scheduled Bible readings on Sunday deal with “epiphanies” of who Christ is:  His baptism, in which the voice from Heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mathew 3:17); His first miracle; then other Gospel stories, culminating in the Transfiguration, in which the voice from Heaven again says, ““This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased”  (Matthew 17: 5), bracketing Jesus’s ministry with the Father’s identification and favor.

I’m interested in the word “epiphany,” which is also a literary term (meaning a character’s or the reader’s moment of realization in a story) and a term referring to experiences of ordinary life, in which we suddenly see the significance of something.

After the jump, I post an excerpt from a dictionary on the various meanings and uses of “epiphany.”  Read them and reflect on how even the seemingly non-religious uses of the term can apply to Jesus.

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Bonhoeffer on Christmas

Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for plotting against Hitler, is in vogue today.  Much of what people are so excited about in his writings is simply Lutheran spirituality.  Michael Gerson writes a fine column about Bonhoeffer’s reflections from a Nazi prison on Christmas.  What Bonhoeffer is saying–the inversions, the paradoxes, the repudiation of power (of great interest in a postmodern apologetic)–is an application to Christmas of Luther’s theology of the Cross. [Read more…]

Santa Claus, Confessor

St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra back in the 4th century.  He has become one of the most popular saints among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the patron saint of sailors, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, to name just a few.  He also mutated into the emblem of Christmas, Santa Claus.  (Say “Saint Nicholas” real fast.)

But what is the connection between the bishop of Myra and Christmas?  Stories about the saint supplying poor women’s dowries by putting money in stockings drying by the fire give us an explanation of the custom of hanging stockings for Santa to fill, but they don’t have a connection to Christmas, as such.

I think the connection is that the bishop was reportedly a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and authored the Nicene Creed.  A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for World Magazine about the role that St. Nicholas reportedly played at the Council of Nicaea, including slapping the heretic Arius who insisted that Jesus Christ was merely human and not divine.

The St. Nicholas Center has posted that column on its website, along with other supporting material and everything else you might like to know about St. Nicholas, including a forensic reconstruction of what he looked like. I also need to report that the St. Nicholas center has also posted the song parodies written by you Cranach commenters when we discussed my World column here.  Those songs, playing on the image of Santa Claus slapping heretics, were quite creative and funny.

After the jump is a fuller account of St. Nicholas at Nicaea, which I will then discuss in terms of our need to recast Santa Claus as a Confessor of the church. [Read more…]

He has come to you

The word “advent” derives from the past participle form of venire, the Latin word for “to come,” plus ad, which means “to.”  So the term literally means “has come to.”  The season of Advent, which we have now entered, means that Jesus “has come to” us, to you. [Read more…]

The Communion of the Saints

The body consists of innumerable cells.  Each of these has its own distinct life–its own systems of nutrition, reproduction, and protection–and yet these cells group together to form highly specialized organs that, in turn, make up a single body.  The whole scheme, with its incredibly complex relationship of the parts to the whole and the whole to the parts, is astonishing to contemplate.  And the makeup of the body is the Bible’s explanation for the Church and for the relationship each Christian has with the others. This is the “Communion of the Saints” that we celebrated yesterday on All Saints Day. [Read more…]

The “all’s” of the Great Commission

More from Knut Tveitereid in Oslo:  I love it when Bible expositors mine riches out of a text by attending to the details of the language.  Knut discussed the importance of the four “all’s” in the Great Commission:

 And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, [another “all” word in Danish] to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

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