by the Rev. Deacon Marta Illueca.
In the time of King Herod…wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? (Mt. 2:1-2)
From the moment of creation and throughout the history of humanity, there lies the intangible God thread, eternally emanating its light through every fiber of our being. It is that spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, that ignites our life and sustains our souls. And it is that same spirit that permeates our hearts during the Christmas season.
Now the feast of the Epiphany is upon us, traditionally celebrated on January 6th. This is the feast of the visitation of the wise men from the East to see the newborn Jesus. In the Anglican tradition, this event, which is described only in the Gospel of Matthew, is considered the first manifestation of the Lord Jesus to the Gentiles, a timeless reverberation of what was to become the trademark of the Jesus Movement so central to our Episcopalian life. Christ’s salvation is meant to spread without borders. This event is an early echo of Jesus’ timeless grand commission to his apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Both of these occasions, Jesus birth and his grand commission, may seem chronologically distant in the life of Jesus but once we scratch under the surface we find a connecting thread that will help us understand the spirit of Epiphany, or should we say the Holy Spirit in Epiphany?
So let us ponder the meaning of the Epiphany. Every one of us has had one or more aha moments in our lives — those rare bursts of sudden insight that infuse us with a sense of mental clarity and moral certainty. Such is the meaning of the word epiphany, from the Greek epiphainein, which means to reveal. Those aha moments represent a deeper dimension to the meaning of epiphany, waiting to be explored. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary offers us a few insightful definitions of epiphany, including “an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being” and “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.”
And we could say that these epiphanies color certain key themes surrounding Jesus’ life. For example, have you ever found yourself tracking certain elusive motifs or concepts in scripture? So it is with the Holy Spirit, a palpable mystery that deeply permeates the story of the Epiphany much like a supernova.
… and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising until it stopped over the place where the child was. (Mt. 2:9)
My invitation to you is to reimagine the idea of the Epiphany as a major burst of the light of the spirit of God through Jesus Christ — long anticipated by prophets, loudly proclaimed by John the Baptist, and made present in the moment of Jesus’ birth and later in his baptism. This spiritual supernova is the spirit of the Epiphany manifested to shepherds, with the largest earthly congregation of angels ever noted in scripture, and with the largest celestial luminary manifested to the Gentile world guiding the visitation by the wise men.
To think of the Epiphany is to realize that the life of Jesus Christ, from the moment of his birth to the moment of his grand commission to his apostles, spelled out the uncontainable nature of God’s love for humanity. Therefore, Epiphany, is a word that invokes two closely related concepts: sharing our Christian joy and spreading that joy through evangelism. Christ’s epiphany was, and continues to be, far reaching and uncontainable. It was the big bang of our faith, an all-pervading presence, made manifest as a tangible reality at the time of his birth.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. (Mt. 2:10)
The wise men’s overwhelming joy that is at the heart of the Epiphany story, is God’s joy, it is Jesus’ joy, and it is our joy. Let’s take stock.
This is the same joy that God proclaimed in the Hebrew Bible about the moment of creation, “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7). This is the same joy that Jesus Christ promised to his disciples and to us with these words, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:11). The light and the joy of God’s love is a truth that is uncontainable, a truth that shines in the eyes of the believer because it is our birthright as children of God. Therefore, we are called to be the human vehicles of this good news.
As Christians, we rely on the revealed word of God as written in the Old and the New Testament, and our hope is in the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who promised us complete joy. As humans, we cling to the hope of a bright future, where peace and Christian fellowship prevail and where suffering becomes a thing of the past. God’s love, Jesus’ light, and the Holy Spirit’s presence — these are the eternal gifts of the Epiphany:
… then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt. 2:11).