His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4
Many of the goals we set for ourselves are easily achieved because we can see the results of our efforts. A haircut, a diet, physical exercise, a cooking class, all of these and every one like them afford us a tangible result: make it or not, we can see it. Not so with spiritual growth.
In my experience, the difficulty of recognizing spiritual change is the chief reason people falter in their efforts to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth is thought of as an amorphous, ethereal, and mysterious undertaking. Christian history is riddled with persecutions and executions of Christians whose only crime was telling others about their spiritual experience and trying to help others to grow spiritually. The result of this sad and tragic lineage is the lack of teaching from the pulpit and the lack of interest in the pew.
…so that…you may become partakers of the divine nature
Our very nature is wrapped up in the Divine Will. We are wonderfully made in the image of our Creator to live lives of divine intention. We are created to grow in the likeness of God and to be transformed in the spirit so that we may be transformed in the flesh.
you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever. Amen. BCP pg. 308
In Baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, not by the Priest. The Holy Spirit physically enters into our person physically because spiritual transformation is not separate from our physical being, but a part of it—this is incarnation. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us calls, encourages, fosters, and prefects our desire and our effort to grow in the likeness of Christ, but it is often a slow process and hard to see. In a world where we have moved from distraction (“our parcel hasn’t arrived in three weeks”) to anger (“it’s 3 o’clock the day after we ordered and ‘it’ is still not here!”), there is little sympathy for a process that can take a lifetime. But the amazing truth behind our conscious efforts to grow spiritually is that the Holy Spirit is working in us all the time, even when we are unconscious of the presence of God.
You may recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in you in the moment of joy or interest or excitement when you hear something about God. That ‘tickle’ is not simply the Holy Spirit leaping with joy but actually, your spirit as it has been transformed and ‘primed’ for the Word of God.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8
Spiritual Growth is not an event; it is a relationship. Spiritual Growth is a lifelong process of relational growth that depends on our study and application of God’s Word (reading and studying the Bible); our walk in the Spirit (ascribing ‘credit’ to God throughout the day for all things—literally “God on my mind”); praying (talking to God and asking for help); and emptying ourselves of ourselves in order to be filled by God with God.
Spiritual growth is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Here are a few passages from Scripture to help you on your way.
Epiphany is a season of four to nine weeks, from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The length of the season varies according to the date of Easter. The gospel stories of this season describe various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. The coming of the Magi is celebrated on the Epiphany. The Baptism of our Lord is observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. The gospels for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season describe the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, and various miracles and teachings of Jesus. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration. Jesus' identity as the Son of God is dramatically revealed in the Transfiguration gospel, as well as the gospel of the baptism of Christ. We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the showings of his divinity recorded in the gospels of the Epiphany season. Episcopalchurch.org
As we look at the calendar above, we are immediately aware that the seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost are symbolized by the color Green. This may seem odd, especially when we are thinking of Pentecost and the fiery orange-red of the “tongues of fire,” but there is a good reason for it.
The Festival of Epiphany is always on January 6th (thirteen days after Christmas), and the season of the church year that follows is about the unwrapping of the Father’s gift to the world of his only-begotten Son (‘epiphanos’ is a Greek word for ‘to be visible’). Christmas was about Jesus as fully human—a baby son born to Mary and laid in a manger. But Epiphany is about a Jesus who is fully divine—the Son of God, made known to the world. The revelation of God in the form of a child revealed the love of God in a manner that no one had ever imagined. God would sacrifice all to offer everything to those who, though they did not know it, had nothing.
Green is symbolic of resurrection and the newness of life. Spring is a time of rebirth and the revelation of life; green blossoms within us feeling of praise, growth, prosperity; a new beginning, flourishing, and restoration. There are many passages in the Bible in which the color green is invoked. The description of growing things inspires and brings a certain peace to the lessons being taught and provides an apt metaphor for the people of God.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
The connection between a flourishing and fruitful world and a growing and deepening disciple is found through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Fiery red is the color of the Spirit in presence at the moment of revelation, but green is the color of the Spirit in constant revelation in and through everything that God has made.
Green, during Epiphany, reminds us that as we meet Jesus in the Gospels, we are growing in Christ through the Holy Spirit and hearing the call to spread God’s Word throughout the world. The Epiphany revelations of incarnation and blessing (the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan) are linked to the color green to remind us that we are workers fed and sustained by the actions we take in response to that revelation. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the lament goes forth that without God the intended and proper flourishing of creation (of the individual) is impossible,
The waters of Nimrim are dried up and the grass is withered;
the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left. Isaiah 15:6
Anyone who has lived in a non-green part of the world for a length of time knows just how primal this truth is: there is an actual spiritual ache for the witness green growth. This is the other reason the oasis in the tan sea of the desert is such a welcome sight.
Be immersed in the green of Epiphany and send forth new shoots to the Son! Be bathed in the Light of the Word and reflect that light so that others may grow! Recline in green pastures God has led you to and find the peace and joyful repose that will calm your soul.
Growing in Christ,
“And in thy wisdom make me wise.”
In the prologue of his poem, In Memoriam, Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892), Poet Laureate of Queen Victoria's reign and recipient of the coveted Cambridge Chancellor's Gold Medal for poetry, reflects on man’s worth in the face of earthly death.
At just 22 years of age, Arthur Henry Hallam died. Arthur was a dear friend of Tennyson, and the poet’s struggle with the suddenness of Arthur’s death and the grief that followed was a pivotal moment that changed his life.
No one, no matter how well they mask their feelings, can escape the emotional pain that accompanies earthly death. To answer this reality, the world around us offers many and multiple avenues to cope with grief: encounter groups, actualization therapy, self-help books and videos, pharmacology, and the ABC Store. A few of these methods do indeed offer positive and helpful methods for self-reflection. Acknowledging that, while the earthly death of a mother, father, friend, or child can be reduced to a simple biological event, there is also an unknown quantity present.
People of faith are not immune to the emotional tumult that can accompany earthly death, but as people of faith we know that at its core, earthly death reverberates with the vast complexity of human existence within the divine presence. We know that when we are confronted with earthly death, with the frailty in finitude of human existence, we are also propelled by the Holy Spirit to encounter the Divine.
As Jacob wrestled with God in order to find himself and so was renamed Israel (Genesis 32:22-32), we too are called to discover the truth of who we are as we confront the pain of earthly death. For people of faith self-help books and encounter groups may help refine our focus, but only that beam in the darkness can lead us and light our way.
One can say that Tennyson’s poetry itself is the actualization of his search and reflection, a witness of need for active participation in the life that lives on. His love and his sorrow took him to the only place where light and life could prevail for Arthur, and for himself.
In Memoriam A.H.H.
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.
We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster. We are fools and slight;
We mock thee when we do not fear:
But help thy foolish ones to bear;
Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light.
Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.
In the ever-living Light of Christ,
“I, Jesus…I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).
“I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12)
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” [and] “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:9,14)
Epiphany: -- an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
-- an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
One of the most recognizable epiphanic symbols of Christmas is the star that rose in the night sky to announce the birth of the Christ into the world. God made a direct choice here, to be born into the world at night so that the light of the star would be seen. The image/lesson of God’s light shining out in the darkness, illuminating both the point and the process, the place and pathway, the divine and the human, would now be forever a part of our physical and spiritual life.
The incarnation intended nothing less than the utter transformation of human life and existence. The not subtle, not gentle bursting forth of new life and new light were the humanly and heavenly communion of the divine cry and call to eternity. God did not take us out of the world in order that we might find the divine; God came into the world so that we might go into ourselves and find the Savior.
Jesus continued (even to the end as we heard in the 22nd chapter of the Book of Revelation) to emphasize the light against the darkness. Light years (pun intended) beyond the “Star rising in the East,” Jesus speaks about our inner darkness of spirit and mind. Mental health professionals, taking a page from Scripture, tell us that to truly be healed or to even have a chance at healing or wholeness one MUST be honest with the self. Looking inside, that is within our own logic and reason, we must confront ourselves and accept a new way of seeing and being.
God began the witness of the incarnation by giving us a new light to lead us through the darkness and show us the pathway of life, and from that moment on, there is no other Way. When Jesus proclaims, “You are the light of the world” “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16b), he was directing us to be the people we will become when His light shines in us. Each year we celebrate the season of Epiphany to renew our journey in the Light—into Christ, to look inside—by the light of Christ, and having the Way illumined in us; light the Way for others—the Way to eternal life.
By the Light of Christ,
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Matthew 2:9-11
I remember just a couple of months ago, shortly after Halloween, when the stores changed their displays and the season of Christmas! began. What has been sadly referred to as “Christmas creep” in our local groceries, shops, and restaurants has actually been a part of Christian observance for decades. Just this weekend I had a friend express, “Well, I’m actually glad it’s over, now all that’s left is to take down the lights.” In the past several days, Jenny and I walked two neighborhoods, and that sentiment is obvious by the number of houses recently stripped of their twinkling Christmas cheer—a full week before Epiphany! It seems secular and Christian alike have lost track of the rhythm of the season, for the Christmas season actually starts on Christmas Day itself.
As we look back, we know that the four weeks preceding Christmas are a season unto themselves: not Christmas, but Advent, which begins, just for reference, four weeks after the Sunday closest to All Saints’ Day, November 1st. Advent lasts for four weeks and ends on December 24th, Christmas Eve. Thus begins the true season of Christmas—Christ’s birth—on December 25th. This begins Day One of what we understand as “Christmas,” even though schools go back, banks and post offices open, and stores never close.
The 12 days of Christmas is the period in Christian theology that marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, whom we usually represent as “Three Kings,” but in fact were “Wise Men” of an unknown number. It begins on December 25 (Christmas) and runs through January 6 (Epiphany, sometimes also called Three Kings’ Day).
The Feast of the Epiphany is the proclamation that the Christ, who is the incarnate God, the Creator of the universe who was born into a Hebrew family to fulfill the Hebrew prophesies, is also the Savior of the World who came for all people. The Epiphany story, which is found in the Gospel of Matthew, is the story of how this truth was recognized first, not by the Jews, but by the Gentiles. The witness of the Magi, who sacrificed several years of their life traveling on a dangerous journey and willfully humbled themselves as they pay[ed] him homage,” is a form of prefiguring of Jesus’ own journey and sacrifice as “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” for the Gentile world they represented (Philippians 2:8b).
The story of Epiphany confirms that God is reaching out to people of all traditions and faiths across the world and drawing them to himself. The Magi were led to recognize Jesus as the Messiah through their own traditions but confirmed it by God in their own faith journey. The story of the Magi is so important to God’s witness of Divine Love that the Feast of the Epiphany marks the twelfth and final day of the Season of Christmas.
So, the flow of the seasons should be apparent to Christians who observe the liturgical calendar: Advent to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany. But what of our poor secular brethren? Is there no help for them? I include below (and apologize in advance for getting the tune stuck in your head!) a little ditty that everyone knows—Christian and secular alike. This song is all about the season of Christmas, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As usual, I believe we are called to seek a deeper meaning and understanding.
Christian Meaning Behind the 12 Days of Christmas
Originally a poem written by church clerics, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was transformed into a carol at a time when celebrating the twelve days of Christmas was one of the most important holiday customs. By understanding the meaning, the clerics chose the twelve days as wrapping for their poem, the full impact of the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas can be understood.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... a partridge in a pear tree.
The partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on the first day of Christmas. Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge, the only bird that will die to protect its young.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... two turtledoves.
These twin birds represent the Old and New Testaments. Thus, in this gift, the singer finds the complete story of Judeo-Christian faith and God’s plan for the world. The doves are the biblical roadmap that is available to everyone.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... three French hens.
These birds represent faith, hope, and love. This gift hearkens back to 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter written by the apostle Paul.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... four calling birds.
One of the easiest facets of the song’s code to figure out, these fowl are the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... five gold rings.
The gift of the rings represents the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... six geese a-laying.
These lyrics can be traced back to the first story found in the Bible. Each egg is a day in creation, a time when the world was “hatched” or formed by God.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me... seven swans a-swimming.
It would take someone quite familiar with the Bible to identify this gift. Hidden in the code are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. As swans are one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures on earth, they would seem to be a perfect symbol for spiritual gifts.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... eight maids a-milking.
As Christ came to save even the lowest of the low, this gift represents the ones who would receive his word and accept his grace. Being a milkmaid was about the worst job one could have in England during this period; this code conveyed that Jesus cared as much about servants as he did those of royal blood. The eight who were blessed included the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... nine ladies dancing.
These nine dancers were really the gifts known as the fruit of the Spirit. The fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... ten lords a-leaping.
This is probably the easiest gift to understand. As lords were judges and in charge of the law, this code for the Ten Commandments was straightforward to Christians.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... eleven pipers piping.
This is almost a trick question, as most think of the disciples in terms of a dozen. But when Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, there were only eleven men who carried out the gospel message.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... twelve drummers drumming.
The final gift is tied directly to the Church. The drummers are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”
Let us embrace the 12 days in new ways. Let the world have its 55 days (Halloween to Christmas), or its 31 (Thanksgiving to Christmas). We will enjoy the best of them in only 12—just like the song says! For our true love gave to me, and to thee—eternally!
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†