The Feast of the Epiphany
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
If I were to give a pop quiz this morning on the liturgical seasons, I imagine that almost everyone could say something intelligible about Lent: penitence, prayer, self-denial, things like that. Some of you would be able to give an answer about Advent, especially if you’ve recently taken my online crash course: expectation, preparing the way for Christ to be born in us. Easter season? Well, if you don’t know there’s a 7-week season following Easter Sunday, we can offer a remedial make-up session on that, but here’s a hint: it all has to do with resurrection.
But the season of Epiphany is reserved for extra credit. For who really knows what this wintry liturgical time is all about, varying in length from 4 to 9 weeks?
It starts today on the Feast of the Epiphany, which is always celebrated on January 6, only occasionally falling on a Sunday. As we heard in the gospel, this day is a kind of extension of Christmas, with the baby Jesus still glowing in the manger, the star of Bethlehem overhead, and the 3 wise men bearing symbolic gifts.
At the end of the season of Epiphany, no matter how many weeks in length, is the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. There he became dazzlingly white, a vision of God’s glory in light inexpressible, normally hid from our eyes.
Both are called manifestations, which is what “Epiphany” means, when Christ’s true nature was revealed. For when Jesus was born, he manifested God’s glory such that the wise men were inexplicably drawn to him as the Savior. And as a transfigured adult on the mountaintop, his divine nature was shown openly as never before, rendering his disciples senseless.
In between these two powerful manifestations of divine light we see Jesus moving out into Galilee, beginning his ministry. He is baptized, empowered by the Spirit. He draws disciples to join him. He goes about teaching and healing, performing miracles and getting himself into trouble. It is a kind of mini-series on his 3-year public life.
So this season takes us on Jesus’ journey from the possibilities inherent in his creation as the Son of God, through the difficult work of becoming who he was meant to be, culminating in his glorious fulfillment. As such, it is the human story: creation, becoming, and fulfillment.
Sometimes when one of you comes to talk to me about possible changes - big changes - you are unsure about or trying to live into, we end up talking about this human story of creation, becoming, and fulfillment.
Some of you have come wondering about ordination. Others are considering a complete change of career. Some are contemplating whether, after years of fruitless effort to heal a marriage, you should get a divorce and start over again. And the change that many of you are considering is how to live out of that central place within where God is. You have a strong intuition that if you can, you will finally be at home, and truly come alive.
We often begin by talking about potential. You wouldn’t be considering a big change if you didn’t have the sense that there is more of life in store for you, and that you might, by the grace of God, be able to find it. However vague that sense may be, it is the hint of potential, the itch to become more of what you are created to be.
It is astounding that of all the billions of people on this planet who have ever been and who ever will be, not one is identical to another. Each and every one of us is unique. And we become more unique as we accumulate experiences, memories, suffering, relationships. I believe that this uniqueness is God’s gift to us as created beings.
We say that we are created in the image of God. What does this mean? That we are supposed to conform to one model, like religious Ken and Barbie dolls? Of course not. Being created in God’s image means that God manifests in an infinitely varied number of humans. Each of us is a tiny facet of God’s own being. In fact, God manifests in everything, in everyone, all the time. The world, and all the humans who have ever been, are a vast, divine Epiphany.
So if you are created as a unique facet of God, if you are a manifestation of the Creator, then it is your responsibility to find your fulfillment, to become fully yourself, so that you will not block God’s self-manifestation in creation.
What this means is that making a change that we think just might the right thing, the thing that will help us be more fully and naturally ourselves, is not just a matter of doing what we want to do. It is a matter of fulfilling a sacred obligation to God, who is trying to live through us. And this indeed might mean ordination, a career change, a divorce, a changed marriage, or a more spiritually-centered lifestyle: whatever it is that will make more of us, make us more real, more truly ourselves.
Saying “yes” to this kind of change can be a way of stepping into the potential with which God created us. It is what Jesus stepped into in the Jordan River when he was baptized. He said “yes” to manifesting as the 1st-century Jewish Messiah. He said “yes” to his divine potential given in his creation.
After we’ve said “yes,” however - then comes the hard part: becoming. As Jesus roamed about Galilee - teaching, healing, making friends, getting into trouble - we roam about, too. We try to find ourselves, we decide to become different, we set up an ideal self that we strive towards. Sometimes I think this is all rather misguided.
I think our work of becoming is simply the removal of obstacles that keep God from manifesting naturally through us. Our lifelong work is that of uncovering and moving beyond our fear, our tendencies to isolate or self-destruct, or whatever it is we do that keeps us off-center, inauthentic, unloving, anxious. And we can only do this work with the grace of God - that power that helps us do what we cannot do by ourselves alone.
When these obstacles are out of the way, God’s own life is free to rise up through our unique personality. We can be more natural, confident, spontaneous, manifesting that one beautiful facet of God’s being that only we can show. So we don’t create a self; we allow the self which God has created to be.
You have probably known some people who are unselfconsciously themselves. They may be fat or thin, beautiful or ugly, cranky or cheerful, very young or very old, smart or dull. None of this matters if they are unhindered by fear, control, ego, or other obstacles to their natural, created self. They may be eccentric, but if their heart is free, they are attractive. They are just themselves, and we are drawn to them.
This is a kind of transfiguration. For it is the unobstructed light of God shining through a human being, for all the world to see. It is the fulfillment of a God-given potential. And seeing it, we wonder at God’s marvelously varied creativity.
So if you ever face an exam that asks you what the season of Epiphany is all about, just say that it is a story about creation, becoming, and fulfillment. Say that it is the story about Jesus shining with potential as a divine baby, his struggle to become the Messiah, and his shining, again, in spiritual maturity.
But most importantly, say that Epiphany is your story. This story begins with your unique creation as a reflective facet of your Creator. It continues the work, in partnership with God, of removing the obstacles in your path. And it is fulfilled in you as a free and natural being, shining with the light of God, for all the world to see.