Epiphanies are showings, revelations, appearances, times God showed up - notably, in the person of Jesus. These are times the Holy Spirit revealed that God is present in Christ. These are the ‘God sightings’, the times God shows up and transforms lives among us.
The season of Epiphany, or Epiphanies if you will, begins with a visit from magi - wise people from the East. Three wise men, generally, are what we see in pictures: and they are visiting three ordinary-looking people, a father, a mother, and a tiny infant.
Around them may be shepherds and angels - at least in the manger scenes. The essence is three beholding three, and finding in that beholding a revelation of the mystery of Christ: that God has come down to us and become one of us, in order to bring us salvation.
The season of Epiphany ends with three beholding three again. On a mountaintop Peter, John, and James witness the meeting of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. The disciples see Jesus’ face shine: he is clothed in white, radiant, transfigured; bathed in the light of the glory of God. A voice proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I take delight: listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5) These words hearken back to the beginning of life – and call us forward to the fulfillment of time.
The next Sunday we remember and celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. When Jesus came up out of the water a voice from heaven was saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I take delight.” (Matthew 3:17) Soon Jesus himself proclaims the words of the prophet, come true: “The people that lived in darkness have seen a great light.” (Cf. Isaiah 9:1-2) It is then that he begins to call disciples to follow him. (Matthew 4:19)
In the middle of the Epiphany season there is a special celebration, which recalls our Christmas festivities. It is the feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple (Candlemas or Candelaria). As the Christ Child is dedicated, Anna and Simeon look on and praise God for sending salvation to his people.
In the first few weeks of Epiphany the focus of the gospel is on Jesus, and discoveries of who he is. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus himself begins to turn the camera around. He shows the people God is at work in the world around them – and, as they begin to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, they begin to see Jesus at work in their own lives.
Somehow in the very struggle, the pain, even the persecution, that believers endure in this life, God is present - he is there, he is here, God is with us. In the middle of darkness there is a light shining that it cannot smother; in the middle of despair there is hope; in the middle of doubt, faith; in the middle of sorrow, joy. How can this be - unless God reigns?
At the last, the season of the Epiphanies comes to another mountaintop and the experience we have related above: the Transfiguration. It’s a strange, strange moment. It’s a moment when a man they thought they knew becomes, before his friend’s eyes, a living, visible revelation of God’s glory. Moses saw it; Elijah proclaimed it; Jesus - is it!
He is changed – but still their friend, he is awesome and intimate in one. No wonder they are astonished, no wonder they are afraid, no wonder they are for a moment demobilized: but Jesus comes to them, gently calling: “Stand up; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7) And together they descend the mountain, to the world’s ordinary time.
Jesus exhorts us: Be that light; be the presence of God. Be the Good News of Jesus Christ - in your neighborhood, your city, and your school; in the desert or on the mountain; in your solitude and in the community. You cannot hide a city set upon a hill; let your light shine before people. Rejoice and be glad! “You are light for all the world.” (Matthew 5:14)
Let that light shine in all you do – as Jesus shone on the mountain. Don’t be afraid: God will turn fear into courage. All you can do is this: “Put first in your mind God’s kingdom and his justice; the rest will come.” (Matthew 6:33)
So we, showing Jesus in our lives, are sharing in these moments of Epiphany, these God-sightings in troubled times when God is mostly likely to show up, and come to us, gently calling, “do not be afraid”, and helping us get onto our feet again and walk with him.
Christ extends his hands to us as he did to those frightened men - and bids us rise. Let us, then, come to know and share God’s love with all people.
For the Gospel Grapevine (January 2011), parish newsletter of Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash.