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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Epiphany

This week celebrates Epiphany. At least, it was if one is aware of the way the early church celebrated it and still is the way the Eastern Church (or Orthodox Churches) still do. In the Roman Catholic tradition Epiphany has to fall on a Sunday, so it is always the Sunday closest to the sixth of January. Certainly as a young Quaker guy, I never heard of it. Sometimes growing up in a non-liturgical tradition has its liabilities. January 6 was just another day on the Quaker calendar. So this past weekend I joined the multitude of Christians who celebrated Epiphany.

Of course, if you are growing up ignorant of Epiphany, at least you don’t know what you are missing! My young days were those pre-Vatican II days and little Quaker boys and little Catholic boys did not sit around discussing theology! In Indiana it was basketball, not theology, which was the usual norm of discussion. Again as usual, it was only in my college days when God continued to bless me with friends from the liturgical traditions---Catholics, Episcopalians, Greek Orthodox, and so on---that my theological exposure began to happen. I became ecumenical! I learned this new word, epiphany, to describe this day.

Epiphany, as I later learned in Greek, was a transliteration of a Greek word. Students never know what a word like “transliteration” means. Of course, not one student will ever stop me and ask, “what does ‘transliteration’ mean?” So, I will stop and ask them if they know what it means? No, certainly not. So I explain it means writing in English letter by letter what a foreign word is. So if you pronounce out loud the word, “epiphany,” it sounds the same in Greek or English.

Literally in Greek the word, “epiphany,” means “appearance” or “manifestation.” For the Christian it became the way to describe the phenomenon that God became human in Jesus. It is a fancy word to describe the incarnation. Literally, God “appeared” in human form. Of course, this is a faith statement. There was no way back then or today to prove that Jesus was God-become-human. Only in faith is this “true.” For someone who does not believe, it is certainly not true. In fact, it might actually seem daft!

And Epiphany as a religious holiday---or feast day---celebrates this divine manifestation. This weekend we remembered that manifestation. Today we “re-up” our faith in that same God who not only appeared in the world, but continues to appear in our world. It is an occasion to say “Yes” again to that God who might even want to appear in your life and mine. Let’s sound theologically sophisticated: it is our chance to become epiphanic!

I bet you have always wanted to do that!  So what does it mean? Our DNA will not be altered if we allow God to manifest in and through us whatever God desires. My eyes still will be blue; I will not immediately lose weight. But if I allow God’s presence and will to shine in me, my eyes might begin to twinkle. And I will add spiritual weight to what I say and what I do.

But what am I likely to do? My best guess is I will begin to do the kinds of things Jesus did. That is why God came into the world in human form---as Jesus. Jesus is our best clue about who God is and how God works. (But Jesus is not the only one: don’t forget all those amazing guys and gals in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament). Basically, Jesus treated all people lovingly. He dealt out justice. He had mercy. He was forgiving. He wanted peace and, indeed, was a peacemaker. This often gets summarized as “the kingdom.”

In fact, the primary function of Jesus was to come and to proclaim the kingdom to come. When Jesus called disciples to his side and to his work, I am confident he expected them, too, to be proclaimers of the kingdom come. And I am convinced he had more than mere words in mind. I am sure he wanted me and you, if you are willing, to incarnate that same Divine Presence. He wants us to be available to God to continue the work in the world.

Need I say more? You likely can add to the list as easily as I can. For most of us, the issue is not knowledge. Finally, it is about action. Epiphany is an action-packed celebration. I think we have a fair clue what God would desire if we allow that Divine One to appear in and through us. Knowledge is not the issue; willingness usually is the issue. Do we want to? My will or God’s will: that is the question. Ego or Your way?

Thank you God for your appearance---for Epiphany. Thanks for this past weekend. My prayer: continue to be epiphanic in me. And if I can’t allow it yet, then my prayer is to work to create a willing heart.

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