After the Feast itself of the Epiphany we have a season of varying length, which can be as short as one Sunday or as long as six. The Gospels appointed for these Sundays all maintain the theme of “manifestation” in one way or another. Today's Gospel presents Jesus as a mere boy (at an age when boys can be difficult to live with) speaking of “my Father,” and revealing Himself as God's Son. On Epiphany II we read of His Baptism, when the heavenly voice declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then comes Epiphany III, the lovely account of the miracle at Cana's marriage feast which simultaneously saved a poor family from social disgrace and manifested Jesus as the One to bring a new marriage bond between God and His people. On Epiphany IV, Jesus manifests Himself as the One who heals, and then reiterates the theme of Epiphany Day itself, the welcome of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God. Epiphany V shows a simple manifestation through teaching. Epiphany VI describes the “Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The ultimate manifestation of God Incarnate yet remains to be seen, but the Gospel promise is that He will indeed make Himself visible to all the world.
Epiphany VI has a thrilling Epistle reading, which contains the verse, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” This speaks of the renewal of the Image of God in us, damaged by sin but reconstituted in sanctification. So at the End, His manifestation is our manifestation; His Epiphany becomes our epiphany as well. Imagine looking at yourself in the mirror in heaven! What a make-over, what a face-lift that will be! You will look like Jesus, as the Image of God has been restored.
In the early Epiphany Sundays we have a series of readings from Romans 12 and 13. These readings all describe the morality of the Christian lifestyle. These are impressive in their very simplicity. No painful moral dilemmas, no impossible commandments, just a series of suggestions. But the key to the entire two chapters is in one exceedingly demanding verse: “And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Not conformed, but transformed! The message of Jesus, God Incarnate, is not for the self-satisfied but for those who are willing to be changed, made over, rehabilitated. If you like yourself the way you are, the Gospel is not for you, for the Gospel is all about internal and external change. And that, again, is God's ultimate and greatest self-disclosure. LKW
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Both Christmas and Epiphany celebrate the same event and same truth, but the difference in which the two great holy days are observed is painful. Christmas has become a popular secular holiday, whereas Epiphany (in spite of the slang use of the word itself) is barely known. In churches Christmas is celebrated with much ado. Congregations are filled and God is worshiped gloriously with our finest music and best liturgy. Epiphany is celebrated, if at all, with the plainest of plain services and tiny congregations. For Christmas we decorate our churches and our homes, making them beautiful for the Infant King. At Epiphany we take those decorations down and pack them away. Joy gives way to gloom, in the wretched cold of January. Now which observance is more like the Event itself?
Theologians speak of Christ in His two states, the state of His humiliation and of His exaltation. God's self-exhibition was first of all a revelation of His humility. It may seem rash to speak of “the humility of God,” but it is necessary to remember that His coming to earth was not an interlude, a change of plan, a deviation from the script. The babe visited by the shepherds, the young child worshiped by the wise men, the precocious boy who startled the teachers of the law, all were manifestations of God as He truly is.
St Paul wrote (1 Cor. 1:27-29), “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, God hath chosen the weak things in the world to confound the things that are mighty, and base things of the world hath God chosen, yea things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, so that no flesh should glory in his presence.” Of course the Apostle was describing his Corinthians converts and the methods by which they had been won for Christ: foolish, weak, base. But the humility of the Infant Church was firmly grounded in the humility of God Incarnate in Jesus Christ.“That no flesh should glory!” The Gospel makes sense only to those who remember why it was necessary in the first place.
The original and most enduring sin was the pride of Adam and Eve, who aspired to be equal with God, “knowing” (that is, determining for themselves) “good and evil.” Their offspring can be saved only by a drastic event of humiliation, a radical leveling of our pride. A desperate situation required a Divine intervention.
The shepherds, the wise men, the doctors in the Temple, have one thing in common with us. Left to our own devices, they and we knew very little of what God is like. But in Jesus Christ we have seen God face to face. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” And as we see Him clearly, our sin is exposed, our pride is levelled, and our boasting is put to silence. LKW