The unbelievable, incomprehensible gift of the Incarnation is
simply too big to celebrate as a single feast. So Christmas merges
into Epiphany and both spread out into the days around them. Epiphany
is actually the oldest of the Christmas celebrations – giving
us, in stories and in theologizing, some hints of what this gift
is all about – helping us get our heads around something really
too big to grasp. In the readings around Epiphany we see a Jesus
whose identity as God’s Son is revealed at His baptism, a
Jesus who works wonders like multiplying bread, healing lepers,
and walking on water. But perhaps most directly we hear today in
1 John who/what God actually is – love.
As I have noted in earlier reflections, the Greek word we translate
as “love” really means something else. It would be better
translated as “self-giving”. Doing so gives us fresh
insight into this familiar passage. Listen anew to the author of
“My friends, let us give ourselves to one another
. . . whoever fails to do this does not know God, because God
is pure self-giving. The ‘epiphany’ of God’s
self-giving, is shown in that God sent His only Son into the world.”
Jesus, beyond wonderworker, beyond teacher, is God’s own self,
the ultimate manifestation of God’s self-giving.
Tomorrow’s first reading follows immediately from today’s,
and, taking the next logical step, gives us explicitly the true reason
for Christian behavior – the ultimate basis for Christian ethics
– “. . . if God gave Himself for us, then we should
give ourselves for one another . . .” St. Paul makes the
same point at greater length in his letter to the Romans. Indeed,
with the light provided by today’s passage from 1 John, we see
that the whole of the New Testament says this in one way or the other.
But 1 John says it most simply and most clearly; “God is
Subsequent generations of theologians have developed whole systems
of moral theology, but they all boil down to this. Christian ethics
is simply a response ethics. No set of rules, however reasonable,
can either capture or limit that response. God’s self-giving
is too wonderful to grasp, but most certainly too wonderful to ignore.
Having been given Jesus, the only possible response has to be to give
ourselves. It does not seem like much in comparison. But it is all
we have to give. We have to give it all.