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Epiphany as life task

Posted January 5, 2020

Today we celebrate the feast of Epiphany.  Epiphany means: becoming visible; shining forth.  Christmas Day itself is already the fundamental epiphany, because on that day God became visible in Christ.  God became visible not first and foremost in a doctrine, or in a system of ideas or in a collection of sacred writings, but in a person, in the words and actions and gestures of Jesus of Nazareth; in his life, and death, and resurrection.  It is Jesus’ humanity that reveals God to the world.

Now if it was Jesus’ life task to make God visible to the world, then it is ours as well.  And we accomplish this in exactly the same way as Jesus did.  Jesus did not go around in blinding light.  God did not use the pyrotechnics he employed on Mount Sinai to make his presence visible in Jesus.  True, Jesus did some extraordinary things: he healed the sick; he calmed the storm; he raised Lazarus and the widow’s son from the dead; he was transfigured on the mountain.  But for the most part, he was just like me and you: not even a halo to distinguish him, as in the iconography of Christian art through the centuries.

Very likely, the people who saw God most clearly and most unforgettably in Jesus were not the people who witnessed the extraordinary things, but the people to whom Jesus reached out in the ordinary, unreported events that filled most of his life: people whose lives were changed by his gracious words; people who looked into his eyes and saw there a deep, divine compassion; the beggar he shared his bread with; the people who saw God in his smile, in his stare, in his touch, in his words of consolation and encouragement; perhaps also in his words of warning and reproof.  The Gospels were not written to record those everyday gestures, and yet such gestures are the stuff of every human life.  If Jesus was truly human, much of his life must have been filled with low-key events, and it was through these events, and not just through the extraordinary happenings, that he became the epiphany of God in the lives of his fellow human beings.

Oh, if only we could accept that the Word became flesh in all its ordinariness – that the eternal Word became for the most part unremarkable, like us!  Then we would be more confident that our humanity too can be a channel of light and love to our fellows.  Christ can shine through us into other people’s darkness.  God’s epiphanies are mostly secret, but they are always powerful, always able to change people’s lives and shape their destinies.

We should never underestimate the good that Christ does through us in our daily lives, in our small kindnesses, in small gestures of human warmth, our little acts of courtesy, gentleness and understanding.  A genuine act of love, however small, a brave witness to truth and justice when everyone else is rejecting them, is always an epiphany of God in human affairs.  Such acts are soon forgotten by us, but one day we shall see that they illuminate the heavens, for they are reflections of God’s goodness shining forth in our humanity.  You don’t know how powerful a thank you from you can be, or a humble apology, or a word of encouragement; or a helping hand; or support in times of adversity; consolation in sadness; a gesture of welcome to the lonely; a warm greeting to the outsider.  God makes use of us in wonderful ways to reveal himself to the world, even without our knowing it.

Of course, the fact that God already works through us even without our knowing it does not mean that we must not also be conscious of our mission in the world, and the responsibilities that go with it.  Being a light to the world is a positive agenda.  As Jesus says in St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before other people, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.’

The Feast of Epiphany is about God’s bright light of salvation shining upon the world through Jesus.  It is also about our vocation, mine and yours: to be Jesus’ epiphany – to put a ray of light into other people’s souls.

We must always remember that it is also possible to do the opposite – to put darkness into someone else’s soul: to hide God from them.  That could be their ruin, and ours too.  For the darkness that we impart can only be the darkness that is in our own soul.  ‘Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble’, St John says in his first Epistle.  Conversely, ‘whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.’

There is a lot of darkness in the world, and a lot of darkness and depression in people’s souls.  Lots of people do not know where they are going!  Let us take in the light of Jesus on this Feast of Epiphany and resolve in the new year not to keep it to ourselves.

I know that’s not a very practical new year’s resolution.  But it’s up to each of us to make it practical, for only we can take responsibility for those facets of ourselves that spread darkness in other people’s souls, or which prevent us from giving light to everyone in the house.  An addiction, perhaps; a very particular form of self-absorption; a blinkered flight from truth.  Concentrate on that, and you will not be lacking for a very practical new year’s resolution tailored to yourself.

Fr Tom Deidun

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