Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar celebrate Epiphany annually on January 6th. It’s also called Theophany or “vision from God.” It’s a day to celebrate God becoming human in Jesus. The divinity within humanity, the dwelling with, the glorious presence, the love come down is at the center of our feast day. It is a feast of manifestation. Western Christians celebrate the Magi visiting baby Jesus, God manifested in real, physical, human form. Eastern Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus, the spirit of God manifested to the world through Jesus. The image of the Magi’s silhouettes against the desert horizon following the star is maybe the strongest from my childhood faith. It is that image I associate with the Christmas season. Three kings, following a star, bearing gifts, traveling far– it’s a magical story filled with awe. God is with us, as a vulnerable baby. It’s mysterious and wondrous.
Epiphany is also a word we use in common language. The ancient Greek word epiphany means manifestation. It’s a word originally used to convey a moment of special insight with supernatural help from the outside. Today, there is less of a divine connotation, yet it still conveys deep revelation that seems to change everything fundamentally. The most famous epiphany is probably Sir Isaac Newton’s epiphany about a falling apple, the moon, and gravity. Newton sitting under a tree, like the Magi, is a childhood image that stuck. He wasn’t daydreaming. He had done his own rigorous study. He was ready to have the deep realization. Something seemingly from the outside awakened something inside of him, and he was transformed. There was a moment of clarity that changed everything. His deep knowledge got him ready for this giant leap forward in understanding. What triggered that leap is a bit of a mystery.
This Epiphany, I’m struck by the process of manifestation, the work that makes epiphany possible matched with the utter mystery and otherness of it all. The magi took the time, made the effort, traveled the necessary distance to see the baby. They could have stayed home. Newton did the work, studied, built up his knowledge enough to be ready for a breakthrough. Yet the actual epiphany was a gift. The process is awakening something inside of ourselves that is already there, unlocking the rumbling made possible by our open, seeking hearts that knows the dignity of committed work. The process is also something totally new, totally other, totally outside, knocking us upside the head with greatness we can barely fathom. The process of going and seeing, the process of studying the edges of the unknown prepare us for transformation. That meeting of something deep inside with something galaxies away is sacred. We can celebrate Epiphany by being our own, very ordinary version of the Magi and Newton. I want to be a very ordinary person equally committed to my work and open to revelation that will invite me to put my work down in shock and awe.