“Arise shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness the peoples. Yet the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:1-3.
The sacred rhythm of Christian pilgrimage
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses us in the heavenly realms with all spiritual gifting in Christ! One healthy purpose of the traditional liturgical Christian calendar is that it enjoins us towards rightly defining Christian life as a pilgrimage, illustrated as we journey through the seasons of the Christian year. This yearly sacred rhythm shapes our true identity as a “alien residents” in this present world order, whose true homeland belongs to the future world—which in many ways through the presence of God’s Spirit is breaking into the present moment, granting us and making us “signs” of His coming kingdom. Now the Christmas season, otherwise called Christmastide (“Festival of Christ”), ends on 5 January. Then on 6 January we embark through the season of Epiphany, which ends Ash Wednesday, thus marking the first day of Lent.
Beginning the year in the light of the Morning Star
I therefore find it timely that we reflect on how this season of Epiphany enjoins us to begin the New Year through the empowering sacred memory of our Messiah—who has come to share in our suffering that we may share His glory. This is thus a season when the Holy Spirit renews in us a knowledge of His Holy presence— the uniting of our life to His— that in a new way at the beginning of a new year, the Spirit makes us for all around us— an epiphany of the saving glory of Christ Jesus our saviour. Now what I want us to foremost recall here, is that the season of Epiphany is a season which in God’s providence, always helps us begin the New Year with holy cognisance of His commissioning hand upon us, as those whom He is through the Spirit renewed in His image revealed in Christ, and thus as co-creators of His coming new world, and as ambassadors of His coming kingdom.
Beginning the year at the altar of new beginnings
Therefore I pray that on this eve of a new year that the light of the Morning Star may shine brightly upon the path before you. May the Eternal Spirit lift up your eyes to holy flames of love, where at the altar of new beginnings— the Spirit shall say to you, “Remove your sandals for where you now stand is holy ground.” During this season of Epiphany, may God grant you vision of His new world, making you for all around you, a joyful sign of His coming Kingdom.
Epiphany: the appearing of God’s glory
Let us now then reflect deeper on the meaning of the term, “Epiphany.” Epiphany is a spiritually and even theologically rich and ancient description of Christian life, and I believe of what the Holy Spirit truly desires to bring about in our life. The term essentially means “appearance;” we can discern a key root of this meaning in Titus 2:11-13 which reads, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared (epiphinaiō). It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness . . . while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing (epiphanian) of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Here Paul defines the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ—on the first Christmas Day, as the great historical definitive “appearing” of Go — hence, an “epiphany!” Then again he says in the same text that the coming of again of Christ upon the earth— our “blessed hope,” shall also be a great “epiphany.”
So the idea of “epiphany” begins with the Christmas manifestation of God’s glory through the birth of Christ; His birth was an epiphany— the appearance of God’s glory! Yet His second coming will be an even greater epiphany, for at that time His glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea!
Now during this Epiphany season, the liturgical Scripture reading often calls to mind, two events in Jesus’ life. First is His baptism in the River Jordan, and second is the miracle of the wine at the wedding feast in Cana. These two events both illustrate the unexpected manifestation of God’s glory during and through what would otherwise appear as ordinary affairs of life; ordinary events that became nonetheless charged with symbolic and prophetic foretelling of Jesus’ messianic mission and purpose.
Opening ourselves to epiphanies of God’s kingdom
Now there are two important lessons here for us. First is that just as the first and second coming of Christian signify the two grand “epiphanies” of God through these two historical personal comings of Messiah, so also in many ways and in the ordinary affairs of life, does God also grant “epiphanies” of His saving presence. Yet are we open to these unexpected, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory, signs, whereby the Holy Spirit reveals “in-breakings” of God’s kingdom into this present moment? May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to His presence breaking in around us— granting us renewed faith, courage and inspiration in our daily witness of Christ as living “signs” of the coming kingdom.
Letting God’s Spirit makes us epiphanies of His glory
The second lesson here is that the season of Epiphany serves to reminds us how God desires to empower us through the sanctifying work of His Spirit, as a living “epiphany” of God’s presence— of His immanent glory, for and in behalf of the world around us. Charles grants us vivid vision into this meaning of Epiphany in one of his hymns whereby we sing, “Dayspring from on high, be near; Daystar in our heart appear.” Wesley’s reflection on Epiphany thus evokes in us a right response to the hymn we earlier sing on Christmas Day, “Oh, to all Thy self impart, formed in each believing heart! Hark, the herald angels, Glory to the new born king!”
We may call this, the spirituality of Epiphany. Epiphany spirituality enjoins us to open our life up to the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit with the prayer that wherever we are, God may make us a manifestation of His glory— that our way of life as followers and disciples of Jesus, bear glorious and prophetic witness to the presence of the resurrected Christ.
Becoming a “safe place“ for people around us
I shall now draw you attention to a relevant quote from the late Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “When we become free from the need to judge or condemn, we can become safe places for people” around us. Let us reflect on Nouwen phrase, “safe places.” I believe that Nouwen’s use of “safe place” as a metaphor for a Christian’s life within the challenging contingencies of daily hustle and bustle, provides us a salient clarity into further meanings of Epiphany spirituality. I believe that as Nouwen so eloquently reminds us, the Spirit seeks to make us a “safe place” where people may encounter through our own priestly presence— the presence of the living Christ.
The Spirit thus seeks to moreover sanctify us as a serendipity; an unexpected but oh so needed overflowing of grace and refreshing, to those around us who may otherwise sense no hope of such serendipitous surprises. Yet as Nouwen also points us, to become such an epiphany, the Spirit evokes in us our call towards extending forgiveness and thus forego our own innate tendency to judge the person before us whose behaviour or appearance falls short of our expectations.
During this season of Epiphany, may we therefore indeed open ourselves to the Spirit’s sanctifying work, that he may again empower us in behalf of the world around us, as “safe places,” unexpected though much needed, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory— the presence of Jesus. Moreover, here at the beginning of the new year, when history again turns closer to its birthing of the new age when the full glory of Heaven shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea; May also open ourselves to the Spirit’s sanctifying work, that he may again empower us in behalf of the world around us, as “safe places,” unexpected though much needed, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory— the presence of Jesus.
“Run Oh Fleet of Foot! Run I say! For I put the wind behind you! I pave before you a highway of holiness; a path of righteousness which no man can obstruct. No unclean thing is found there for there I set my angel who wields the sword of flaming love. Arise now for your light dawns; in covenant faithfulness I make you a witness of my Name. I call upon heaven, earth and all creation as witnesses to my word, and I will do it. Be not weary for along the way I provide an oasis from where flows a brook for the reviving of your soul, and the replenishing of words which i give you for the healing of the nations.”