This Sunday we celebrate the epiphany of the Lord. This celebration is called THE epiphany, but it isn’t the only one our Lord inspired. He works through his people by epiphanies. They happen every day, just as miracles do—below our radar, cloaked as brain storms. The secular definition of an epiphany is “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking.” An epiphany in divine terms is made up of one part sledge hammer and one part whisper. We are like the proverbial mule whose master must get his creature’s attention with a two-by-four before directing it to the job at hand. An epiphany usually comes to us as a whisper while we are coming to from our Master’s attention getter.
We rarely understand our importance in God’s plan. After all, what are we that he is mindful of us? Yet Jesus’ roots were in a humble little town of 400 souls called Nazareth, part of a small but politically and religiously tense region known as Jerusalem—where being downtrodden was part of many people’s heritage. This is a condition that opens people to epiphanies, and the prophet Isaiah had his share, as our first reading indicates (Is 60:1-6). He came to believe Jerusalem would become a point of interest for leaders from around the world.
“Raise your eyes and look about,” he tells Jerusalem’s faithful. “They all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.”
Jesus came into the world as an epiphany to wise men from far-off lands, as indicated by our gospel reading from Matthew (Mt 2:1-12). These scholars of the stars knew something big was happening in this small region and somehow they knew they needed to become a part of it.
“Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’”
But as tuned into the stars as they were, these astronomers also had a powerful connection beyond the stars. This resulted in another epiphany that guaranteed Jesus would survive his infancy.
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
In the 33 years to follow, as Jesus did what he came to do, he ensured his work would continue by becoming an epiphany to people who were, like Jerusalem, small, volatile, but with much spiritual potential. That was Paul. In him, God saw the perfect vessel by which to deliver his epiphany beyond one region and one people. In this Sunday’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6), he explains how he received his mission and why we have a role in it:
“It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
His letters, and the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, have served up epiphanies for hundreds of succeeding generations. Through them, God’s whispers hit us like sledge hammers so we can chart a course to their source via the stars we see spinning around our heads as we regain consciousness.