The Epiphany of Epiphany

A reflection by the Reverend Eric Long,
first published in the February 2019 edition of
The Record

The Epiphany of our Lord is an ancient Christian feast which dates from at least 361 A.D. and falls on January 6 every year. With it, we move beyond the twelve days of Christmas into the startling discovery of just exactly what the hubbub surrounding this baby’s birth is about. The Greek meaning of the word Epiphany is “appearance” or “manifestation.” In common parlance, “a sudden perception of the essential nature or meaning of something” (Merriam-Webster).

With the feast of the Epiphany come the Magi, those gentile sages, who had the foresight and wisdom to recognize royalty in this peasant child and know the Jesus event must mean something for the whole world, not just one private corner of it. Yet it also brings the wrath of cruel King Herod, who rightly discerns the assault that Jesus’ birth is on the status quo. Jesus is baptized to inaugurate his public ministry and the voice from heaven shouts, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Such is the rapid pace of revelation in the season after the Epiphany. In these weeks, demons flee, the sick are healed and common people far and wide see that something new has broken into their world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus calls disciples into his ministry, and they enter it with great trepidation and awe, as indeed we all must. Finally, just before the illumination of the season yields to the penitence of Lent, all is unveiled on the Mount of Transfiguration where the picture takes on absolute clarity: in Jesus, God has come onto our turf, and the consequences of his coming will not be small, isolated, contained or reversed.

In each of these turns, the essential nature of God is revealed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet also unveiled are the cosmic and personal implications of such an earth-shaking event. With Jesus’ advent, things have changed, which means we must also change. This will also be made undeniably clear. However, human history has proven this manifestation of God is resisted in human hearts. Nothing is so common as to deny the reality, and thus the consequences, of God’s coming into our world. Just ask King Herod; reality is the easiest thing to reject.

So the question comes to each of us: how will we, each in our own lives, receive the reality of this God made manifest? Will we, like the Magi of old, have the good sense to recognize the seismic shift-taking written into the very cosmos about us? Or will we fight like Herod to defend our little piece of a dying world?

Epiphany insists our world has opened up with new possibilities because God has finally, definitively shown up. Nothing will be the same with King Jesus around. He will make the first, last; the outcast, embraced; the dead, alive. Nothing, despite all desperate efforts to the contrary, can stay the same. Nothing. Not even us. How do we embrace that? How do we put aside our old perceptions and habits and work together for a new world in Christ?

The Creator just entered creation. This is the epiphany of the Epiphany.

Image: Edward Burne-Jones, The Adoration of the Magi, Google Art Project; Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain

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