Our feast-day today is another of the great celebrations of the Christmas season: Epiphany, the arriving of the Magi to find and adore the newborn Christ. It’s on a par with Christmas; celebrated even more than Christmas in some eastern parts of the Church. The reason for its importance is that it represents the Good News of God-made-man becoming known. In the Magi, the world has come to see its Saviour! He is truly here, truly amongst us — for the world, not just for the Jews!
In Jesus, born as a man, we see God made visible. That is the point of His coming, so that we can truly know of God directly, by seeing Him and hearing Him. The Father, and the Holy Spirit, remain unseen, but the testimony that Jesus gives is that the Father and the Holy Spirit are truly God; God just as much as He Himself is God. Jesus speaks of the Father, the One who sends Him; and He speaks of the Holy Spirit, the One whom Father and Son will send upon the Church after the ministry of Jesus has run its course. It is because of what Jesus taught us that we know that God is three in one: a Trinity. It is because of Jesus’s promise to send Him that we know of the Holy Spirit.
The third section of the Creed, that we are now considering covers the Holy Spirit and the Church. It begins: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. A lot of agony was spent in the early Church — in fact, right through to the 11th c. — working out exactly how to describe the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son. All sorts of images have been offered for Him. In the Scripture there are many different ways of representing the action of the Spirit: there are images of fire, of cloud, of wind, of breath, of water, of light, and the dove … All these lovely ways of describing the Holy Spirit are grasping at the fact that the Holy Spirit brings life … brings things spiritually ‘to life.’ The Holy Spirit is the love and the power of God: He is “the Lord, the Giver of Life,” as the Creed says. Living water, Breath of Life, Warming and Passionate Fire … the Holy Spirit communicates the Life of God, the Love of God, to us as human beings. One of the loveliest ways of thinking about the Holy Spirit is to consider Him as the love between Father and Son: the Holy Spirit is that infinite and passionate love within the Godhead; love that is not just inward looking, but that is poured out also into what is outside God: lavished also on creation. The bible says, on the very first page, that “the Spirit hovered over the waters”: God from the beginning was filling the earth with His love, giving the universe the power of His creative love, to have life.
So, whilst we do not see the Spirit, as we can see God the Son — Jesus the baby in the manger, Jesus the man on the Cross — yet we know that the Spirit is active and life-giving. We would not be Christians without the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit of God who inspires us to believe; the Holy Spirit who inhabits us through grace beginning with Baptism; the Holy Spirit who gives us the courage to persevere with belief, and with charity, even when it is hard. It is the Holy Spirit who has given guidance to the Church, strength to the martyrs; it is the Holy Spirit who is the creative divine power within the Sacraments … “let Your Holy Spirit come down upon these offerings, that they may become the Body & Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is the loving communication of God, making God present in our very midst; the same powerful God who overshadowed Mary, so she conceived the baby Jesus within her. He comes into our hearts to make us live active Christian lives: He is the grace that makes us holy.
So, as we continue to gaze in wonder and prayer at the scene of the Crib, let’s thank God for Christmas, and for the Epiphany, that through the Spirit we have been brought to know Jesus the Lord, to receive His great gift of the Spirit, because it is only through the Sprit that we can ever live a life of goodness and holiness, a life pleasing to God. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You will renew the face of the earth.