One of my favorite parts of Christmas is actually – – Epiphany. The anticipation of Jesus’s birth (Advent) has ended; likewise, the intense musical, administrative, and logistical preparations give way to few days of time cherished with family and friends. I finally have time to listen to my favorite recordings of Christmas music sung by so many choirs from around the world (but especially King College, Cambridge!) – and a favorite Christmas album by the great jazz pianist, George Shearing. Then, a new calendar year begins, and I am always grateful for the fresh start implied by that. And, even though the three kings make a brief appearance during our Christmas Eve family service (and they looked very regal indeed!), the actual day of Epiphany and the ensuing Sundays after Epiphany give us an opportunity to explore the “reason for the season.”
Chronologically, the visit of the Magi is the first evidence that there is more to the birth of Jesus than the act of being born – it is the act (seemingly passive – for a baby) of being witnessed. It is the understanding by sages from far outside the little town of Bethlehem that this birth will have far-reaching implications. In an Epiphanytide sermon, Harvard University Chapel Minister, Peter Gomes, puts it well: “This epiphany business is like a stone that is dropped in the water, which sets off a series of concentric ripples that get bigger and bigger and bigger until the entire surface imperceptibly is witness to the initial movement of that stone.”
The Epiphany/manifestation of Jesus will continue in the scriptures. John the Baptist will baptize Christ. Why? Certainly not for the repentance of Jesus’s sins – Jesus is sinless. It is a witness. Then, Jesus will perform his first miracle at the wedding at Cana. It this just some sort of display of alchemy? No, it is much more – it is about a holy moment that called the disciples to witness.
It is unlikely that any of us are going to see water turned into wine. Would this even be permissible on the River Road Church campus? Not likely that during a baptism we will literally experience what those at the River Jordan witnessed – not even if we hold a baptism service in the nearby James River. Not likely that we will travel miles and miles to meet an infant who is prophecied to save us. Let’s not even try to imagine these events taking place today. On the other hand, within the context of our modern lives, it is very possible that we can serve as witnesses to the life of Christ in such a way that the ripple effect of our spiritual visit with the Savior, our own heartfelt epiphany, changes the lives of others. Not a bad start!
Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
Reginald Heber, 1811
Written by Bob Gallagher