John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29
This season of Epiphany is all about seeing things clearly. To have an “epiphany” is to experience a moment of life-changing realization. As a season of the Church, Epiphany refers to the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles as reflected in the visitation of the Magi. The implication is that the Incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ was recognized and acknowledged not only by the wise men but subsequently by Simeon and Anna in the temple, by John the Baptist, the first disciples, the guests at the wedding at Cana, by all those who would encounter and believe in man Jesus and eventually by generations of Christians on down to this very moment. For the Christian believer the realization of the indwelling and transcendent presence of Christ and the growing understanding of who he was and is are continual…not just a single moment.
While I wish that every moment would be an “aha” moment with God I know that is not the case for most of us. We go about our ordinary lives, often distracted and rarely fully engaged in life. We wander about spiritually sleepy…just going through the motions….most of the time. But occasionally something will happen….someone will say something…or we will hear the melody of a song in a particular way…or look at the world around us with a briefly clear vison and something inside becomes still and our mind says…”there it was….I felt something special…and we know that the Holy Spirit has breathed upon us and God is near.” In these fleeting moments of awareness, we feel ourselves to be a part of God and God to be one with us.
For some those moments happen in prayer….when an individual sets him or herself apart with the intention of communicating with God. It can happen in worship….hopefully it happens in worship. But epiphany is not limited to the liturgy….and interaction with another of God’s children….a poignant moment with the creation….a new visit to an old “thin place” can be the occasion for a close encounter with God. Some people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to recreate such a moment once it has been experienced. But the truth is epiphany cannot be manufactured or maneuvered. It is a moment of grace…a gift of light coming down to us from the father of lights.
When I was a very little and yes, a rather odd girl I used to have these moments of clarity when I felt that God was right beside me….but somehow hidden from sight. It was as though a veil of invisibility hung between God and myself. But at any moment a quick movement or a passing breeze might blow the corner aside and I would be able to see God. I loved going around the corners of buildings or coming to the end of a wall because I thought that if I moved quickly enough I would catch a glimpse of God. This early season of Epiphany was during the years before my 7th birthday. In those days I remember being really happy … engaged in an ongoing conversation with the God on the other side of the wall. I would make up my own hymns of praise to this God…songs that would last all day….with limitless verses. I doubt that they were particularly pretty songs and my mother must have had the patience of Job to suffer through them…but this time reflected an innocent and unquestioning, albeit primitive faith in God and in my ability to connect with God.
It all ended one Sunday when I heard an unpleasant and seemingly angry preacher say that “God did not hear sinners and anyone who wasn’t baptized was a sinner.” At the time I was convinced that preachers would never lie. Since I knew that I had not been baptized I knew that I must have been a sinner. So if God doesn’t hear me then who was on the other side of the invisible wall listening? The answer became obvious….”no one”. I had been talking and singing to no one. God couldn’t hear me …. a sinner….and if God would not listen to me then no one would. At that moment at 7 years old, I felt myself abandoned by God.
I would spend the next 27 or so years of my life searching for that connection to God that misguided religion and an angry man in a pulpit had taken from me. In the time since I have had wonderful moments of Epiphany but never have I had such clarity or certainty of belief as I did in those first days…when I knew God to be as close to me as my own breath.
I believe that God, who created us and loves us speaks to us in the deepest places of our hearts. It is a language of emotion…of intuition….an internal guidance system that shows us our best selves and if we allow it will direct us in living into that good self. This is God the Holy Spirit who resides within us and draws us all together in love and faith.
While God has been loving and communicating with us and all of creation since the beginning of all things humanity has not been receptive and is not always aware of it…..or perhaps it is that we do not want to hear God’s message so we close our ears and harden our hearts. In the time of the prophets, God revealed his message to individuals who were purposed with sharing that word with the people. But the people often did not care to hear or abide by the wisdom of the prophets. But even in those ancient days, God was revealing the ultimate plan for humanity….when Godself would become incarnate and live among us….not just for a particular chosen people but for the sake of all people.
In our lesson from the prophet Isaiah we read
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel. I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
The prophet shares the voice of God speaking to his chosen one….his “anointed”….his Messiah….telling him that he will be the one to bring light to all people. This is echoed in the words of the last prophet John who proclaims….”Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus, who was God incarnate would be the one to bring salvation to all of. Creation. He would be the one to lead God’s children into a new way of life and the suffering servant who would minister to the least of these. He was both the good shepherd and the lamb who offered himself in sacrifice for the world.
In our Lord Jesus God became all that we would need…teacher, healer, example…friend. He came that we might learn the ways of love….that we might live our lives as he lived….loving others as he loved. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we now are the ones called to carry the light of Christ’s love into the world. Having experienced the realization of his presence in ourselves we are to become the instruments of that epiphany for others. We are to speak as Christ spoke…to act as Christ acted….to offer ourselves as living witnesses of the power of God’s love to transform lives and communities bringing the Kingdom of God into reality.
Perhaps most important is our call to share our realization of our own belovedness…and the belovedness of all of God’s children. We do this in treating others as beloved to us…..in showing kindness and compassion…in seeking to understand and to love without judgment….to serve without expectation of reward….to treat others as we would like to be treated. In helping others to realize that they are also the beloved of God we share our own experience of reconciliation to God and the power that accepting love gives us…..the power to overcome fear….to endure hardship….to transform lives for the sake of the Gospel.
We live in a time where many are confused about what is true and what is a lie. There are those who manipulate information and pervert the truth for both power and profit and only the most discerning can see through the charade. We, as Christians, are called to seek and speak the truth in all things. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to keep our minds focused on the things of God so that we may be holy as God is holy.
The first disciples who came looking for Jesus recognized him as something special and willingly followed him. They could not know where that decision would eventually lead but in that moment they saw him clearly and recognizing God in him they wanted to be a part of whatever he was doing. I pray that each of us will have that clarity of vision…to recognize Christ in our midst and to follow him in his way of love. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes that Christ will strengthen us to the end that we may be found blameless when he comes again. Our strength is in Christ and in this fellowship of believers to which we have been called. This strength will make us willing and follow Christ into the dark places to do the hard work of loving humanity and this broken world.
Bothers and sisters, may God grant each of us the gift of clarity of mind and strength of heart that we might be the conduits of Christ’s love in the world. Be brave…speak the truth…love one another.