What does the word “Epiphany” mean to you? When you hear that word, what comes to mind?
A light bulb going off
Things becoming clear
Understanding greater insight
Understanding greater truth
Elise Ballards says an epiphany is “…a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes you in some way.”
This Sunday marks the first in the season of Epiphany in the church year. And throughout the season in worship, you’ll hear us explore these themes of epiphany as incarnating insight. How does epiphany change us? How does it shape what we do as a church? What environment is conducive to having an epiphany? And what do you do with the epiphany you’ve found?
The word epiphany is from the Greek “epiphaneia,” which roughly translates to “appearance” or “manifestation.” January 6th, the day of “Epiphany” is the day in the church year is when we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men to see a baby. It is the day of the revelation of God putting on flesh and bones and dwelling among us. It is the celebration of the manifestation of God with us, Emmanuel.
The story goes, Joseph and Mary give birth to a son and name him Jesus. Poor and young, and with a new child, they live in the shadow of the Empire. Meanwhile, in faraway lands, we hear that there are Magi, or wise men, the mystic types, who witness the rising of a star, signaling to them that something big is about to happen. They travel to Jerusalem to find the one they call “king of the Jews”.
When they tell King Herod about the star and what they had witnessed, King Herod deceivingly tells the Magi to go find this child and to come back and tell him where the child is so he too can go and worship this king of the Jews. In reality, King Herod was a bit of a tyrant and terrified of losing power and would do anything to ensure he would remain in that power. He wasn’t interested in worshipping the king of the Jews. He was looking to plot to squash out any threat to his power.
So the Magi set out to find this child and followed the star wherever it went, which led them to the house where the child would be found with his mother Mary. They give this child gifts of gold, frankincense, and mhyr and then instead of going back to tell the king where this child was, they snuck away and return to their home countries after being warned in a dream to not tell the king.
This isn’t the story of the shepherds in the field. It isn’t the story of census or a manger. It is the story of God’s favor for all people. It is the story of a God who is revealed to us in very visceral and real ways. It is the story of a God who is revealed in the stars and who visits us in dreams. It is the story of a God of epiphanies.
Do you have epiphanies? I imagine the answer is yes for most people, but I do think there are some people who are more open to the experience than others. And on top of that, I do believe that some people do the work to position themselves to experience these Aha! Moments more than others. And on top of that, those who take the time to reflect on these epiphanies will be the most transformed by them.
Sometimes we have epiphanies that shift us in some way. Sometimes something hits us and we see things line up, even if just for a fleeting moment, and things make sense like they never have before. We see things a little more deeply or more clearly. And that moment of epiphany, that revelation comes as we rub our eyes to see the old in a new way.
And what a great time of year to position yourself for an epiphany. As we enter the new year, many of us make New Year’s Resolutions to live in a different way. Some people commit to things like weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise… I think I’ve seen more Peleton commercials than bluebonnets in the spring. But others commit to making changes in how they position themselves in the world.
Lily White was telling me that she uses this time of year to look back on the past year and sets goals for the year to come. There is an intentionality of how we posture ourselves that open us up to the Holy in unique ways.
In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown shares what she calls one of the most important moments of her life. She said that she was about to do Soul Food Sunday with Oprah, meeting her for the very first time. And the night before she went to dinner with the producer of the show and her manager. After the dinner, Brene’s manager stopped her on the street and asked, “Brene, where are you?” And she gave a smart ass response “I’m at the corner of Michigan and Chicago.” And she knew that in that moment she was feeling vulnerable. Her manager proceeded to tell her that she was not present at dinner. And Brene responded, “I’m doing that thing that I do when I am afraid. I’m floating above my life watching it and studying it, instead of living it.”
The next morning, Brene’s daughter called asking about a permission slip for a trip and Brene assured her daughter that the permission slip had been filled out and turned in. She said after she hung up the phone she could feel the tears coming on. Brene then thought, “I need a permission slip. I need to give myself permission to be excited, goofy, and happy about meeting Oprah today.”
She said that morning she went over to her desk, and literally wrote herself a permission note to step out in vulnerability to have fun, be goofy and to enjoy her time with Oprah. It was an epiphany moment.
It is easy to float above our life, to detach instead of being present in the moment and lean into the vulnerability. And this new year is the perfect opportunity to commit to taking a posture of reflection, contemplation, meditation, and openness to the Holy. To be open to those moments of epiphanies.
And this is what the church season of Epiphany is all about. We are celebrating the newness all around us in our lives and celebrating the new beginnings in our scriptures, Jesus’ baptism, the wedding at Cana.
Epiphany is an incarnation of newness. It is seeing Christ with us and among us. It is positioning ourselves for an encounter with the Holy.
One of my favorite thing about Matthew’s version of the birth story is that everyone is having dreams. I love dreams. Often times, I’ll roll over first thing in the morning to tell Ashley about my dreams before they fade away in the morning light.
I am fascinated by the ways our minds sort through the stuff in our brains. I am also fascinated with that liminal space that is created between the lucid and reality, between the spiritual realm and the physical. Whether its the stress of a work week, a lost loved one, or falling from a cliff (that is probably telling you something about how in control you feel), our dreams speak.
And everyone is dreaming in this scripture story. Joseph is visited in a dream before Jesus is born. The Magi are warned in a dream not to return to the King but to sneak out of the country by another path. And then Joseph again is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt, that the upheaval and uncertainty of being a refugee seeking asylum in another country will be better than the certain death they would experience in their own country. A story that feels all to familiar still today.
The Bible is full of dreamers.
And more often than not, the dream is not the end of the story. It leads to an epiphany which leads one of our characters to act. The Magi left by another route. Joseph takes his young family choosing to seek asylum in Egypt.
Having an experience is one thing. But being postured to act on those experiences requires a position of listening, humility, and openness.
Most of us regularly have night dreams. But there are some among us who have daydreams. And these dreams point to a world as it ought to be. To dream God’s world into being is having the capacity to see the world as it ought to be.
We live in the world as it is, but is this all there is? Or is there something more? Are we satisfied with the status quo, or do we dare to dream a world where babies are kings and where the status quo is challenged?
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” is so famous because in naming things as they are, Dr. King paints the picture of a world in the way it could be. A dream of equality, justice for all, a dream of the mountains being brought low and the valleys filled in. A dream.
Epiphanies are openings into this world of dreams where we see the world as it ought to be, even if just for a moment. It is an opening of the fabric of the world to see the world as God sees it.
And we, as Christians, are called to live in the liminal space between the world as it is, and the world as it ought to be. Because it is in the liminal space where epiphanies happen. It is in the liminal space where God steps in and visits us in dreams.
And the scary thing is, the epiphany isn’t the end of the story. It is the beginning. Epiphanies draw us out of our comfort zones and into the uncomfortable spaces to make something of what we have experienced; to do something to make the world as it ought to be.
So what dreams are you dreaming these days? What epiphanies have you had lately? How are you making use of this new year to position yourself to being open to the Holy?
Just imagine. Imagine what could be.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”