January 8, 2012
Epiphany SundayJust what is Epiphany? What can be said about it that one does not already know? Or do we really know? It can be as simple or as complicated as we want it to be. However, I think it easier to start this way. Webster’s defines it as this: “A sudden and striking understanding of something.” I suppose we have epiphanies all the time.
We as humans are quite hard to satisfy. Let’s face it, we are never happy and to truly believe in something that isn’t glaring us in the face, we are not much different from the people of biblical times, we need proof or “signs”. It has always been this way. We only need to take a look in the Old Testament to see that. God’s people were always asking Him for a “sign”. Without proof, we simply don’t believe it or struggle to do so.
Signs played a great part in the lives of the Israelites. Many prophets came to serve as a confirmation for those who are addressed by God. There is no reason to think that the shepherds or the Magi mistrusted Angel and therefore need that kind of sign as confirmation, but yet God does so with a bright star. The Angels brought great joy to the shepherds; and bid them to follow the star and find the Messiah.
A star; a great light. Many churches attribute Epiphany to light. Christ is the light to the world; and by his coming he brings light. Light in the darkness helps us to see. By seeing we have an epiphany.
When we consider the evil, injustice, and misery existing in the world, how can we claim that the ultimate Reality at the heart of the universe is a Spirit of peace, harmony, and infinite love? What evidence can we bring to support such a belief? And how can we adore a God whose creation is marred by cruelty, suffering and sin?
This of course, is the problem of evil; the principle problem for all realistic religions. It is no use to dodge the issue, and still less to pretend that the church has a solution for the problem up her sleeve. Christian spirituality does not explain evil and suffering, which remain a mystery beyond the reach of the mind, but does show us how to deal with them. It insists that something has gone wrong and badly wrong, with the world. The world as we know it does not look like the work a of loving Father that the Gospels call us to worship. Rather, the world is like the work of selfish and undisciplined children who have been given wonderful material in a measure of freedom, and have not used that freedom well.
Yet we see in this model the world in a constant struggle for truth, goodness, and perfection. And all those who give themselves to the struggle; the struggle for the redemption of the world from greed, cruelty, injustice, selfish desire and their results; find themselves supported and reinforced by the Spiritual power which enhances life, and strengthens will, and purifies character. And they come to recognize more and more the power and action of God; a small epiphany. These facts are as real as the other facts that distress and puzzle us; the apparent cruelty, injustice and futility of life. We have to rationalize somehow for the existence of gentleness, purity, self-sacrifice, holiness, and love. How can we account for them unless they are the attributes of God?
Now to accept Christianity as God's supreme self revelation does not mean some elaborate philosophy of the spirit. It means that we accept the Gospel story that touches our lives significantly at every point, because it is in this that God is conveyed. If we are ever to learn all that this record can mean for us, we must never forget that these, beyond all other facts of history, are indwelt, molded, brought into being by the living Spirit of God. And if we feel God in these events, some so strange and homely, inspiring this action and record, then we also accept all these incidents as conveying something of His overruling will and thought, and having something in them for each of us. Nothing in the message of Epiphany is by accident. Everything is there because they convey spiritual truth, and gives us the supernatural. It all speaks to our condition.
The Gospels may not always have the accuracy of a photograph, but they have a higher reality, they are the very word of and charged with God. This is the reason why it has always been recommended and always will be recommended that Christians meditate on the Gospels; it is almost like chewing evangelical cud that is so nourishing to the soul and so inexhaustible as a basis of prayer. In a way every word of the gospel is a sacramental, like some great work of art reviewing greater depths of significance as we grow in the wisdom of a child of humility and love. You see the wisdom that the Magi came away from Bethlehem with.
You know how sometimes in the pitch black night in the country (I know some of you have not always lived in San Diego) the pitch black dark of night and when you look far off you see a glimmer of light and you follow it and it turns out to be simply a candle in the cottage window. But that light was enough to assure you of life ahead, to give you the lead you wanted in the dark. In the same way, when the Magi turned from their complicated calculations in search of heaven and decided to follow a star, they did not arrive at a great mathematical result or revelation of the cosmic mind. They found a poor little family and were brought to their knees, because like the truly wise, they were really humble minded before baby born under most unfortunate circumstances, a mystery of human life, a Little League in a growing thing. What a paradox! The apparently rich Magi coming to the apparently poor child. There they laid down their intellectual treasures; all pure gold to them; and better than that, offered the spirit of adoration, the incense which alone consecrates the intellectual life in quest of truth, and that reverent acceptance of pain, mental suffering and sacrifice, that death to self which, like myrrh, hallows the dedicated life in all its forms.
The most that mankind achieved on his own here surrenders before the unspeakable simplicity of the methods of God. He is the Light of the World - all of it. He does not only want or illuminate spiritual things; he hallows the ox and the lamb, and the sparrows and the flowers. There never was a less highbrow religion or one more deeply in touch with natural life than Christianity. ‘Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’
The story the Magi shows the new life which has appeared within the rich texture of our normal experience, casting its purifying radiance upon the whole existence of mankind. Cozy religious exclusiveness is condemned in this ministry. It is easy for the pious to join the shepherds and feel in place at the crib, and look out into the surrounding darkness saying, “Look at those extraordinary intellectuals wandering about after a star; they seem to have no religious sense. Look what curious gifts and odd types of self consecration they are bringing; not at all the sort of people one sees in church.” Yet the Child who began by receiving those unexpected pilgrims had a woman on the streets for His most faithful friend, and two thieves for His comrades at last. Looking at these extremes, so deeply significant of the Christian spirit, we can learn something, perhaps, of the height and depth and breadth of that divine generosity into which our narrow and fragmentary lives must be absorbed.
The Epiphany means the free pouring out of limitless light; the Light of the World; not just its careful communication to those whom we hold worthy to receive it. The Magi, after all, took more trouble than the shepherds. They came along their journey, by more perilous paths. The intellectual virtues and longings of men are all blessed in Christ. The Epiphany is here to teach us that God - that Christ is not just for justice such as these. Christ is for the entire world.
God's mysterious and life-giving action is for a purpose that points beyond ourselves. It happens not merely for our sakes; but because His manifestation to the world must be through us. Every real Christian is part of the dust laden air which shall radiate the glowing charity of God; catch and reflect His golden light. You are the light of the world, because you are irradiated by the one Light of the World, the Holy Generosity of God. The holy saints of past lives have learned this; they look right through and pass the outward appearance of mankind's lives, and seek only for the seed of divine life within them, the hidden child of God. “Ye are of God, little children; greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world,” explains St. John. This is the awful truth which rules the inner life of mankind.
Sometimes our epiphanies are not going to be this great. Sometimes our epiphanies will simply be matters of faith. Our own patron saint of our little church here, St. Francis of Assisi, had this to say: “Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed. Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” We need to allow the light of Christ to shine in our lives. We need to allow ourselves to open up to the reality of Christ, so that he will allow his light to shine on us. That little proof; that little sign that He exists for you will come.
It has always been so amazing to me that there are some many people out there that do not believe. We all have our trials and tribulations. We all see the evil, the injustice, and the misery in the world. As Christians we don't claim to be able to explain it or remotely understand it, but we do claim that there is a way of getting through it. We do claim that there is way to help soften it.
This year for Epiphany, let the Christ child shine through you. Open yourself up. Ask God to bring His star - that glorious light - into your soul. Look around you; look at the world that we live in; look at the many comforts we had even in the poorest of homes; look at the engineering feats; look at the medical feats; think of your body and how it lives for a certain number years; think of all these things and more and know that the Christ child does indeed live and shine his light to the world. Epiphany, asks us not only to see that light, but to be that light to the rest of the world.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.