This week we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Next week, we celebrate that of the Baptism of the Lord. Traditionally, these feasts have gone together. This is because the events of the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord and also the Wedding Feast at Cana all are moments in the life of Christ, when what was hidden – the love of God now present personally within Creation – when what was hidden has been revealed.
The West has traditionally focussed on the visit of the Magi, the East on the Baptism of the Lord, and the Wedding Feast at Cana has always been bundled up with them. But each one of them has been linked with Christmas. This is the idea that what happens in a sense secretly on Christmas is made truly manifest at Epiphany, whether by the visit of the Magi, or by the declaration of the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism or through the working of Christ’s first miracle at the request of his mother. In each case, there is a sense of something hidden being revealed.
On this point, I would like to make two connections. One from personal experience and one from the tradition, an insight of St Ignatius of Loyola, one which I think I have mentioned before, but perhaps not in this way.
The first then from personal experience regarding the link from the secret to the public. I was once talking to a friend of mine about a couple we both knew. We were talking about how welcoming and hospitable they made their home. They constantly had guests staying with them. They always were inviting people round for dinner. They were always making long trips to visit people. They gave off this wonderful sense of generosity. And it truly was a team effort. Each of the two of them brought different things to the table.
As I said, I remember discussing this with the friend. But he made a point which I think speaks to the link between Christmas and Epiphany. He said he knew that the warmth of their home was based on something sacred. He said that there was a private intimacy in their love for each other, an intimacy which flowered into a beautiful family; and then further flowered into a space for other people.
I have always thought this a beautiful description of the sacrament of marriage, a sacrament of the mystery of divine love. At the heart, there is something incredibly personal, incredibly intimate. But it is so personal that it in fact reveals what a person really is. A person is someone who is designed to give and receive love. And not a cheap love, but one that costs everything. But that is a price that we are willing to pay. Moreover, when one gives everything, one realises just how much one has been given. Finally, when one gives everything in love, this love overflows. This private, intimate, most personal heart explodes, bathing all around it in the light of love, revealing the true nature of the world.
I think this might be a way to think about the connection between Christmas and Epiphany in our own lives. Our prayer and our worship in a sense are the secret heart. This is what gives life, light and joy to our existence. But this is precisely revealed in how we live with our neighbours. Our love of God is revealed in our love of neighbours. The first commandment is the life of the second; the second the flowering of the first.
This brings me to that second connection. This is St Ignatius of Loyola’s meditation on the Resurrection of Christ. He makes a connection between the Annunciation and the Resurrection. He wonders whether just as our Lady knew of the Incarnation before anyone, perhaps she knew of the Resurrection first as well. Just as her heart was alive to the life within her at the Annunciation, so too perhaps she knew Christ is risen before anyone else.
Perhaps we could extend this. Perhaps the Nativity is to the Resurrection as Epiphany is to Pentecost. In both cases, the first is the secret heart of the second. Thus, in our prayer perhaps it is the remembering of Christ’s death and resurrection, the remembering of the extent of Christ’s love for us that drives us out in the life of the Spirit.
This Sunday then let us consider our personal prayer and our worship together. Do we know Christ in our secret room and in the Eucharist in such a way that it changes our life visibly? Would others wonder at our prayer life, our relationship with Christ by the way we live?