by the Rev. Dr. Jenny Call
I first learned about epiphany from childhood cartoons. Back then, I recognized it as the “a-ha” moment when Tom the cat would have an idea to defeat Jerry the mouse and a lightbulb would appear over Tom’s head. Suddenly he had grasped a solution to his problem…at least for the moment, until his nemesis outwitted him once again.
Growing up as a low church Baptist whose major holy days included only Easter and Christmas, I wasn’t aware of the religious celebration of Epiphany until I found my way to the Episcopal church five or so years ago. Since then, I have grown in my understanding of this feast day that marks when the magi or wisemen followed a star to find the baby Jesus and offered their gifts to the long-prophesied king of the Jews. Epiphany means “to reveal or make manifest” and through the visit of the wisemen and the story of Jesus’ baptism which follows in the lectionary, Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, the Messiah.
It is fitting that we celebrate Epiphany at the beginning of the new calendar year when many of us seek new direction or inspiration. Motivated by a new start, we may make resolutions, pick an inspirational word of the year to guide us, and generally seek to be the best version of ourselves. This may last for a few weeks until we realize how difficult change is and how rare are those lightbulb moments of clarity and insight.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our solutions came as sudden as cartoon epiphanies or if our path was illuminated by a star? I long for a road map of the journey ahead with encouraging signposts along the way: “You’re doing a great job. You’re almost there!” But I don’t know how to read the stars and I find myself often walking in the dark, feeling my way through my uncertainty, and trying not to get even more lost.
It has been helpful for me to realize that Epiphany is not just a day but a season that follows Christmas and lasts until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Sometimes the revelation is not a moment or a sudden knowing, but a slow realization. It may be a journey into the unknown, seeking to follow Christ (even when we don’t know where it will lead us).
This is the journey of faith. Like the disciples who abandoned their fishing nets to follow a prophet they didn’t quite understand, we follow in hopefulness, not knowing where Jesus will lead us. Something stirs us to leave behind what we know to seek out this divine mystery, believing there is more to the world that we can see or comprehend.
This is the hope that keeps me moving forward when the world seems hopelessly dark. The Gospel of John proclaims, “A light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…The true light, which enlightens everyone, [has] come into the world.”
This epiphany is made real to me during each candlelit singing of Silent Night. We hold our candles high, pushing back the darkness with the intensity of our many tiny flames. We are reminded that Christ has been born, and we are born again through following him. His light shines in us, and we carry this light with us always. We never need to fear the darkness or worry about the path because Jesus, the Light of the World, is with us.
In this season and in this new year, may we seek this light within ourselves and in the world around us. May we follow wherever God leads. May we receive the epiphanies God manifests in our lives and share Christ’s redeeming light with our world.