Practicing Epiphany

* first published January 8, 2015

This is the week of epiphany. I experienced a major epiphany this year,  aka having a baby and I am confronted almost daily with the question, “What happens now?"

Epiphany, in the church tradition, celebrates and marks the visit of the magi, or "wise men", who travelled to see Jesus when he was born. It literally means a revelation of God, a manifestation of the divine, and in this case, a first contact scenario of God to a wider audience than the Jewish people anticipated: to the gentiles. And since we are all pretty much considered gentiles in this modern age, how we practice epiphany is still relevant today.

All of us have had small epiphanies in our lives, and some have had major ones. Throughout scripture, there are countless stories of Christ revealing himself to ordinary people in dramatic ways. Burning bushes, still small voices, divine suppertimes and blinding lights that stop us in our tracks. And all this is exciting and dramatic and it is tempting to pause there and celebrate these moments forever. But if you read more closely through the stories of epiphany, there is always a second chapter, a question that follows each fantastic sign, healing and revelation: what are you going to do now? 

For every revelation, there is an invitation to respond– take up your mat and walk, go and tell that cruel king to let his slaves go, move your family to a totally unknownland, go and sin no more, go build a giant boat and fill it with animals, go preach in a foreign city where you may get killed…the day after an epiphany doesn’t look so exciting. It looks like work. It looks like a choice that many won’t take.

The modern epiphany sounds easier – we are told to live, savour, enjoy and seek out moments of true revelation in our everyday lives and chase them passionately. Every cup of coffee, every gourmet meal, every walk in the sunshineor ordinary conversation has the potential to become a Moment, a personal epiphany, if only we are truly ready for it.  I am constantly encouraged and admonished by others to enjoy every moment as a new mother.  After my daughter’s birth, everything was new, amazing and overwhelming. But after the six hundredth diaper change, and seven millionth minute of lost sleep, I have learned that there are, in addition to the many moments that my heart breaks with love and amazement, moments that just suck. Or moments that really are best gotten through as quickly as possible.

We are led to believe that our lives can be an endless series of small epiphanies, and that every moment should be extraordinary. And we have the tools to catalogue and share these moments (I’m looking at you, Facebook and Pinterest) so that everyone can see what an inspiring, beautiful and momentous life we are living. Once that moment has passed and been filtered and instagrammed, we are off to pursue and consume the next moment of amazingness.  But there is a fundamental difference between moments and epiphanies – and one that we need to recognise and begin to practise if we want to grow in our faith and as people who want to live full and rich lives, not just moment-chasers.

Every year on Christmas morning, my father would sigh and look wistfully at the masses of presents under the tree, and tell us, “We should just save them for next year.”  We, of course, clamoured and complained and hoped he was joking. But I am often guilty of doing this in my journey of faith. I have been to countless worship events, church services and ministry weekends where I feel renewed, excited and refreshed in a new revelation of God’s presence. I have also heard God speak to me in clear and inspiring ways, and far too often, I do nothing. I go home, and forget. I revel in the revelation, and forget the road ahead.

But like the wise men we cannot just set up camp in the manger and savour the epiphany forever, or turn it into a moment to be commemorated and marketed as a Hallmark card. The Christmas tree has to come down at some point. The wise men saw a marvellous star, packed their bags and set out on a long and arduous journey across the desert. And after the presents were unwrapped and they saw Jesus with their own eyes, (this was the Epiphany) they had to pack up their bags, pay the innkeeper, feed the camels, check the weather and began the long journey back home. When the disciple Paul was blinded by Jesus on the road in one of the Bible’s most famous epiphanies, his whole life changed– from persecutor to preacher. It didn’t happen overnight.  He spent a lot of time, blind, in bed, probably worrying about how,  exactly, he was supposed to follow through. And he travelled many more dangerous and long roads afterwards, and spent many hours at sea and stranded on islands with unfriendly sailors and poisonous snakes. Likewise, after being healed by Jesus, the man who had been lame for 30 years had to pick up his mat, walk home, find a job, and start helping around the house.

So epiphanies are not cups of marvelous, perfect coffee, or beautiful babies laying quietly and angelically in their cribs (This is why we take photographs so that we can prove these moments actually happened).  Epiphanies are meant to be the spark that sets your heart aflame, the push off the edge of the cliff, the first step forward into a whole new way of living.

Has God been speaking to you during this Christmas season? Have you had an epiphany? And if so, what are you going to do now?