Have you ever had an epiphany? An epiphany is an awakening in which a person comes to terms with a new perspective on life. In church, we often speak of revelation—God’s self-disclosure to humanity in history—but very rarely do we speak of epiphany.
Epiphany has to do with illumination, a sudden inner-realization that becomes a profoundly transformative event in our lives.
Tomorrow many churches will be celebrating epiphany and will focus on the meeting that took place between baby Jesus and the Magi from the East. Illumination happens in the biblical text as these wise men divine the constellations only to discover that God’s king is born. Their recognition propels them on a dangerous quest from the wilderness of Persia to the land of Israel.
When they arrive to the manger of Christ’s birth, they realize that this baby King is representative of the new scheme of God’s reign. This King will not be the mighty aristocrat that most people expect; instead, he will welcome the very souls who stand on the margins of society and culture. Epiphany for the Magi and for us is about new beginnings indeed.
I am sure that some of you banked on the New Year to try something new. We dedicate ourselves to resolutions hoping that we will engage the world differently than we did in 2009.
Some of us will diet; others will save money or start a home project. But dedication to a goal is not the same as transformation in light of epiphany.
Epiphany comes with a clear moment of enlightenment. Another biblical story comes to mind. Before Jesus was crucified, he told Peter that Peter would deny him before a crowd. Peter insisted that he would never do such a heinous act, but Jesus assured him that, upon hearing a rooster crow three times, Peter’s deed will come to pass.
On the night Jesus was crucified, Peter did deny Jesus. When that rooster gave its evening call three times, Peter had an epiphany: The clear and sharp sound in that night sky awakened Peter to his own lack of loyalty to the true King.
According to literary critic, Morris Beja, the emphasis of an epiphany is on the person who becomes fully cognizant of their immediate situation. Although God brings about revelation and conviction, an epiphany forces a person to look deep within herself and come to terms with the reality of her situation.
Epiphany is a journey inward that begs a response for how a person will turn towards the world. The Magi responded to the star by risking political treason to find the King; Peter responded to his denial by running back to be with the disciples. The Magi gave gifts worthy of a king; Peter received a gift from the Risen Lord that was wrapped up in a call to “feed my sheep.”
In church, epiphany is a time in which we stand as mere observers of the First Christmas. We are an audience that watches the Magi visit the baby Jesus. Real epiphany, though, makes us go beyond mere observation.
We become participants in the Christmas story because we realize that when the Magi visit Jesus, we visit Jesus too. Peter’s denial is our denial.
The baby’s cry is a clear call that awakens us to our involvement in the divine constellations of our lives and forces us to wonder how we are to respond to God’s reign in us.
So the question remains: How will you respond to God’s reign in 2010? The answer is not so much about what you will do; it’s about who you will become, for that is the essence and the consequence of epiphany.