OM’s message to the Church, On the Feast of the Epiphany

January 6, 2022

TO DEARLY BELOVED PEOPLE OF GOD in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente

[1] Today we observe the Feast of the Epiphany and begin the celebration of a new liturgical season of the Church, the Epiphany Season, which covers eight [8] Sundays for this year. And so we greet each one a Happy Fiesta and wish that this great feast brings us farther and deeper to the love and knowledge of our Lord Jesus who was born in Christmas to take our human nature and live among us in order to wrought for our salvation.

[2] With Easter and Christmas, the Feast of Epiphany is among the three principal and oldest feast days of the Christian Church. We in the IFI, together with the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Episcopal/Anglican Churches, and other Western Churches, observe the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. In the tradition of some Eastern Orthodox Churches, they celebrate Christmas on January 6 and the Feast of Epiphany is at some thirteen (13) days after.

[3] Epiphany comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” which means “manifestation” to commemorate the revelation, introduction, and manifestation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The gospel of Matthew (2:1-12) depicts the manifestation by the visit of the wise men traveling from the East to come to worship and adore the baby Jesus and to offer their gifts that symbolize his messianic office. This visit describes that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, also did come for the salvation of the Gentiles and for the whole world.

[4] The events of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus continue in the gospel readings of the subsequent Sundays within the season: the manifestation of his divinity at his baptism in the Jordan River (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22), at his first miracle in the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11), at the beginning of his Galilean ministry (Luke 4:4-21), at his calling of his disciples (Luke 5:1- 11), at his teaching and healing acts in all Judea (Luke 6:17-26), at his proclamation of the message of love and forgiveness (Luke 6:27-38), and at his transfiguration on the mountain top (Luke 9:28-36). All these make the revelation that the incarnate Christ was both fully God and fully man. Epiphany celebrates this sacred mystery on the life and person of the Lord Jesus which serves as the core in the church’s worship, proclamation, and witness.

[5] The celebration of the Epiphany is highlighted in various ways and traditions in many churches. Its most prominent tradition however involves water as a reflection of Jesus’ baptism in the blessing of houses of church members with holy water. We have several dioceses in the IFI which have been practicing this as a way of pastorally reaching out to church members and liturgically engaging with them with the ultimate purpose of incorporating them to the parish life that proclaims, celebrates, and nurtures the Lordship of Christ, that at the end of the day all shall be lead towards him – to worship and adore him and to offer our gifts in the different ways we serve him through God’s people, especially the least, vulnerable and marginalized.

[6] In the gospel reading for this great Feast of the Epiphany, we are taught that the wise men traveling from the far East were led by the bright star to the place where they found the baby Jesus together with Mary. In the same manner too that we, in our own personal and communal life, are led by some agencies towards the Lord Jesus, in the knowledge and love of him. These agencies could be our ministers, parents, friends, relatives, and office mates who inspired us to seek the faith and encounter the Lord. Or perhaps through a book that we read, a testimony that we hear, an event that we witness, and a situation that we experience, that somehow sparked some light to lead us to know and recognize the saving power of God in Jesus our Lord.

[7] There is no doubt however that the church as being the community of believers stands out as the most common feature and regular agency in bringing people to faith and towards the presence of the Lord Jesus. Through its worship, proclamation and witness, the church serves as the bright light to guide people in their journey. Through its prayers and sacraments, the church shapes human lives to be fitting for the Lord’s ways. Through its teachings rooted in the Scriptures, the church enlightens the mind of people and convict them to the truth in the Lord Jesus. Through its various works and loving services, the church radiates the brilliance of that light in Jesus and demonstrates in a concrete manner the path that leads to him who once said that whosoever serves the least of the members of his family, serves him.

[8] In this Feast of the Epiphany and in the whole Epiphany Season, it is our fervent wish that our beloved Church – the IFI – becomes the bright star to guide and bring everyone – regardless of class, status, gender, and sexual orientation – to the Lord Jesus, to his worship, proclamation, and witness. That like the star in the Epiphany gospel, the IFI shall stop at every place, home, and situation, to enable those who are in them to see, recognize, know and believe in the Lord Jesus, and be “overwhelmed with joy” in their worship and adoration of the Lord and in the offering of their gifts and lives in the different ministries of the church in pursuit of its mission, that in so doing the messianic work of the Lord Jesus is carried out in our midst.

[9] We in the IFI are called to such task as imperative of our faith and as the mandate of our heritage. We recognize however that this is a great challenge for us as a church, given that there are forces within and outside the church that are cunning and deceptive and which are bent to deter us to exercise our prophetic ministry, social witness, and pastoral advocacy to consistently and boldly demonstrate the loving, life-giving and liberating work of Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour of the world.

[10] It is our hope therefore that the numerous lessons and experiences we have gone through these years in our work and history will aid us in our efforts to further and deepen our knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, even as we anticipate to continue to commit ourselves in proclaiming and celebrating the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as manifested and revealed in various ways as the Lord and Saviour of the world, and persisting to grow in his wisdom as we continue our journey taking another road that will lead to no other than Jesus himself and not ever returning to the ways of the despots and tyrants of the world but “fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression” (Collect for Social Justice).

[11] With the words of St. Paul in mind, may it be then our prayer as IFI that “through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities…in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him” (Ephesians 3:10-12). And so we say the Collect for the Day: “O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (Collect for Epiphany).

Happy Fiesta to all and keep safe in these threatening times.

++Rhee

OBISPO MAXIMO

Manila, Philippines

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