Let’s each keep our eyes open for the epiphanies of God in our lives

Mary Copping, 8 January 2023

Isaiah 60: 1–6; Matthew 2: 1–12

The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘appearance’ or ‘manifestation’. More specifically, epiphany means ‘God-appearing’ and is a reference to the birth of Jesus as a God-appearing event, a revelation.

In our gospel reading this revelation is witnessed first not by the religious or political rulers of the day but by strangers from far away – Gentile magi who came seeking the new King of the Jews. And when they found him they worshipped him. They found him not in a palace, in the expected place, but ‘God with us’ in an unexpected place.

When the wise men came to see the birth of the Christ-child, the Church used the word ‘epiphany’ for the God-appearance that they experienced and then told the world, along with the shepherds.

The magi asked, ‘Where is the new-born King of the Jews?’ They weren’t Jews themselves, but they were looking for a king: someone they could believe in; someone they could trust and follow. They would possibly have had plenty of material things, but not what they needed most to make their lives feel complete, which was Christ the Saviour.

The magi may have said to others on their journey home, ‘We have just seen Jesus, the very Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He will teach us the way to go; he will forgive our sins; he will bring us closer to God than we have ever been before. God has come to us in flesh and blood. God is now here.’ His appearing is not a one- or two-time event. He appears again and again to us now, in blessing and help, in comfort and healing, in sadness and joy.

Jesus’ appearing is not a one- or two-time event. He appears again and again to us now, in blessing and help, in comfort and healing.

In literary terms, an epiphany is that moment in the story when a character gets a realisation, awareness or a knowledge of something. Afterwards, events are seen through this prism. The epiphany of the wise men changed things for them, and so for us. We have the Epiphany, the magi seeking Jesus, the King of the Jews, and finding him – giving us meaning in our lives through Christ, that prism of hope and love through which we can see the world.

Let’s each keep our eyes open for the epiphanies of God in our lives. Let’s keep our eyes open for a star, a Christ-light that might shine in sometimes difficult and painful times, a star to shine in the dark night of our souls. And these stars do shine.

Sometimes it’s the star that’s heard in the innocent words of a small child; sometimes it’s the unexpected action of a kind, caring friend; sometimes it’s the words we hear in the readings, hymns or sermons at church. All of a sudden, meaning begins to unfold and life takes on a specialness that it never had before. Let’s ask God to help us recognise those epiphanies in our lives and thank him for sending his Son to bring us hope and life.

Canon Gary Philbrick says in the diocesan weekly email, ‘This season of Epiphany can, for many, be less frantic than the weeks before and over Christmas. We might have a little time to pray, to listen, to act. As we reflect on the magnificent themes of the Epiphany season – the arrival of the sages from the East, the Baptism of Christ, the changing of the water into wine and the calling of the first disciples – perhaps we can find a little time to ‘sit by the well’, to reflect on God’s work in us in the past year, to reflect on the calling of our churches to share the light of Christ in a world where there is much darkness, and to renew our life of prayer for the Church and the world in which it is set.’

So as we go forward into this new year, even though it has been a dark year for many and will continue to be, let’s thank God for the many blessings of the past year that he has shown each of us, and pray for his light and guidance for the time ahead so that we can be other people’s epiphanies, other people’s light in the darkness.

I end with some words from a poem by Mary Oliver entitled ‘Sometimes’:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.