The word “epiphany” means to show, often translated as “manifestation”. The implication is that the revelation we are experiencing is the uncovering of something that was hitherto hidden from our sight or perception.
On this special feast, we celebrate the fact that we recognize the revelation of our God in the person of Jesus the Christ. We celebrate this revelation because to many of Jesus’ own contemporaries, his role as the messenger of God remained hidden to them. In Matthew’s Gospel, which I just read, a group of foreigners is among the first to recognize Jesus’ special calling. They see his star in the East and come with gifts to honor him. There are, of course, other instances in the New Testament of people having an epiphany, of people recognizing Jesus:
# Peter recognizes Jesus as the Christ in Matthew Ch. 16;
# The thief on the cross recognized him as he was dying (Lk.23)
# The apostle Thomas realized who he was on that night when the Risen Jesus appeared to him (John 20)
# Paul recognizes Jesus in a special epiphany on the road to Damascus (Acts 9)
In each of these stories, it is as if the mystery is uncovered, revealed, unveiled. But the reality is that each of these people had been staring the truth in the face. The truth had been there all along, it just took them some time to put it all together. Once they figured it out, they were bursting at the seams, eager to share their insight and their love of God with everyone they met.
There are some people in churches today who would just as soon keep the secret to themselves. They have developed elaborate theological arguments and ideas and have erected a series of walls and barriers around the central idea of Christ’s all inclusive love. Nevermind the fact that the love of God is beyond human control. Nevermind that the love of God, as taught by this Jesus, is NOT to be reserved for club members only, nor to those with special theological training, nor to those in positions of authority.
The Apostle Paul understands that his primary task is to share his epiphany with others, and not to keep the revelation a secret. He calls this, ‘the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ’ and he recognizes that this is not some finite resource that can be hoarded or doled out like earthly governments dole out financial aid to those they deem worthy.
The revelation of God’s love continues non-stop even today, in our everyday lives. But, we need to slow down and pay attention if we are going to receive the epiphany. When we slow down, we notice things like the Northern lights on a crisp autumn night, or a full moon rising triumphant, or the affection in the face of a child. To the unobservant, revelations cannot be made manifest. Elizabeth Barrett Browning says it best: “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God; and only the one who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.”
When we are attentive to the life of Christ within us, to the presence of the God of the Universe within our own heart, we are able to respond to the miracles that surround us. We can celebrate God’s presence in new ways, we can notice the presence of this God in the hearts of all those with whom we come in contact. And so it is with Christmas. We barely pause to join the shepherds and the Magi at the manger and then we’re off in a big hurry to resume our previously routine. We feel sometimes like the power is draining from our lives, and we become complacent about our faith, about the divine nature that we share.
This year, I pray we can all find the means to stay in the miraculous present. I pray we can be consciously aware of the fact that we are an essential, irreplaceable part of God’s plan for the world—a plan that includes everyone, even our neighbors who make too much noise, even our enemies and the people who despise us.
Epiphany, then, is not just a date in history. It’s the star of divine nature and power that shines brightly within every human heart, warming us, healing us, showing us the way forward in the dark times, giving us the courage to do what we can to make God’s Reign evident to all. This year, we choose to recognize who we really are, valuing what we have seen, committed to bringing a little more light to a world that is often hurting. The miracles abound, the revelations are ongoing and life-changing….if we will only be still and recognize them for the epiphanies that they truly are.