Epiphanytide and Mission: Jesus Christ is Our Message
A secondary theme of the Season of Epiphany is that of mission – shining the light of Jesus Christ at home and further afield. It’s the perfect time, then, for the Church to reflect on the content and clarity of its message. All Saint’s Anglican Church is certainly keeping the season well inasmuch as it is spending this January and February evaluating how it may best engage Rutland and neighboring towns. Yet, before we venture forth evangelistically in 2018 and thereafter, it’s necessary that we first ask this question: What is our core message?
For me, the answer actually came in August 2015, in Ordinary Time. I was conversing with a retired minister about the ever-increasing marginalization of Christianity in our society and the growing problem of our children leaving the Faith when they reach adulthood. “What must we do to reverse the two trends?” I asked. Now with so much bad news of late, you might imagine two sulking men engaged in a jeremiad of sorts and in no mood for a party. After all, the Faith is no longer the source of our society’s meta-narrative, something that might aid evangelism. Yet, it was early August and we were overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee, enjoying the scenery and the easily perceived though hard-to-describe essence of what vacation is. Our spirits couldn’t sink below neutral even if we wanted them to. His response made that especially true for me. Instead of opining that we ought to modify format, style, and tone to arguably match changing sensibilities, he looked at me and with sincerity said, “The most important thing that people need to know is Who Jesus is.”
This minister went on to express two more opinions subsequent to his main point. First, he disapproved of the Evangelical’s workaday lead question, “If you were to die today, where would you spend eternity?” The Faith is profaned when it is presented like an investment or an insurance policy. Salvation is important, but it should never eclipse God himself. Second, he claimed that Christian evangelism loses its focus and thus its effectiveness when it is shaped by market research rather than the One who is at the center of the Faith’s understanding of reality – the Absolute, the human moral condition, and our species’ place in the created order.
If this minister is right, and I think he is, then evangelism is simultaneously quite simple and yet complex. At All Saint’s Anglican Church we tell the citizens of Rutland and neighboring towns about Jesus. That’s simple. Yet, communicating who Jesus is entails explaining what he is. That’s complex. Jesus is both fully God and fully man, and let’s be honest, the hypostatic union presents an intellectual challenge. For this reason, it’s absolutely necessary that we know our Christology inside and out. Thankfully, we have Epiphanytide to sharpen our understanding. Its primary theme is the divinity of Jesus. Along with Christmas, it’s one of two ontological seasons in the Church year dedicated to celebrating and expounding all that’s stated in the most important passage in Holy Writ: The Gospel of St. John 1:1-18.
Format, style, and tone are real concerns, and it’s tempting to think that Christianity will come back in style if we just change something. However, in so many words Jesus himself tells us that bang-on format, style, and tone are useless apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. He makes clear that when the question “But who do you say I am?” is asked, answering like Peter (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”), is something that is revealed from above, by the Paraclete, not arrived at from below.[i]
The lesson, here, for All Saint’s Anglican Church is that we must place our trust in God and seek His guidance in our evangelistic work this year and thereafter. Nothing good will happen apart from that. Still, we have our role, as well. We need to be prepared to communicate who Jesus is when the opportunity presents itself. So in the spirit of the season, let’s sharpen our Christological skill-set this Epiphanytide. Act upon its secondary theme by honoring its primary one. Along with Christmas, Epiphany is the part of the Church year that gets to the root of the matter and our message: Jesus Christ our savior, the man who is very God of the triune God – the incarnation of the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
[i] Holy Bible, Mark 8:29, English Standard Version