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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

In the Spotlight
January 4, 2018

Happy New Year! I trust your Advent and Christmas seasons have been blessed with a renewed sense of the beauty and wonder of God becoming present to us in the person of Jesus. In case you missed it, I invite you to review my Christmas meditation on Holy Wonder.

On January 6 we celebrate Epiphany, traditionally associated in the West with the visit of the Magi, while in the East January 7 is observed as Christmas Day instead of December 25. In modern usage, “epiphany” has come to denote a special insight that comes to someone unexpectedly, a “eureka” moment. Something suddenly dawns on us that we had not seen previously. In ancient usage, “epiphany” was a visible and audible experience of the divine, whether directly or via angels. It is in this sense that Christians came to call Christ’s coming the ultimate Epiphany. Whether on the night of his birth as heralded by angels and witnessed by shepherds, or on the occasion that the Magi worshiped him, the baby Jesus was recognized as the visible appearance of God.

The Greek word epiphanos is a combination word of the words “shine” and “upon.” An epiphany is a spotlight experience. We usually think of the one on whom the spotlight is trained as the center of the event, and certainly this is true of the baby Jesus. This is powerfully witnessed by John the Baptist pointing to Jesus some years later saying, “He must become greater, I must become less.” (John 3:30) All glory belongs to him. Spotlight on Jesus. Absolutely.

Yet I invite us to consider inverting the image. John tells us that Jesus is the light, rather than someone on whom an external light is focused. He came to shine God’s light on everyone who comes into this world (John 1:4-9) Jesus is God’s spotlight on you. On me. On us all.

For many of us, the New Year is an occasion for special self-examination in the interest of self-improvement. In our digital age, it is easier than ever to shine a bright light on things we ordinarily overlook. There are countless apps to help us track our eating, our exercise, our spiritual practices, our money management. Charting our progress with most New Year’s resolutions is as simple as following an app on our smartphone. If all our activities can be subject to meticulous scrutiny simply through technology, who needs heaven’s spotlight on top of it all?

No app can measure the movements of our heart, the soul-center of our life. Only heaven’s spotlight can reveal our inmost selves. Only by heaven’s spotlight do we discover both the awesomeness of God’s image implanted within us and the travesty of our failure to live according to God’s design. Jesus alone exposes and heals our brokenness. Jesus alone discloses and empowers fulfillment of our deepest potential. Jesus alone is God’s Word that is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path. (Psalm 119:105)

Jesus is God’s luminous wisdom manifesting itself in us through a godly heart-attitude toward one another: peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. The divine spotlight of God’s wisdom exposes and banishes all envy and selfish ambition within and among us. (James 3:13-18)

Light changes everything about how we work and live. Christ’s light leads us into genuine fellowship with each other, rather than alienation from one another. (1 John 1:7)

Are we walking in Jesus’ light? Here are some indicators, according to the Scriptures: We are peaceable rather than contentious. We are considerate of others, rather than insisting on our own way. We are merciful to offenders. We are transparently truthful. We nurture fellowship rather than avoiding each other. If we fall short in any of these markers, I invite us to resolve to do better in 2018.

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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