There are people who like surprises and there are those who do not. Even when those are what most would say are good surprises, like a surprise visit or gift or party, some would rather not be surprised. Maybe that is a control thing or maybe there is just so much going on already that surprises, even good ones, are too disruptive. I think both of those are understandable. Having our lives set and in order, and with some certainty that we can manage what we do and what happens to us, is comforting. And, when the world seems to be falling apart around us and we are wearied by constant changes, it can be hard to welcome the interruption of a another surprise.
Epiphany is a surprise. It is a sudden and surprising realization. There are many experiences that may lead to an epiphany, but often it is when people have had some kind of encounter with the spiritual that something powerful yet hidden becomes known. Often this epiphany will lead to a significantly new way of thinking and living. Does that sound to you as a welcome surprise?
For Christians, Epiphany is a season in which we remember the revelation to the world that the baby born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph is no ordinary baby. The Feast Day of the Epiphany recalls the visitation of the Magi, an encounter that represents the manifestation of God incarnate to the Gentiles. Surprise! The long awaited messiah was born not to a royal family in a palace, but to a humble family in a cave. Surprise! The long awaited messiah is revealed first to people outside the covenant rather than to God’s chosen people. Surprise! Neither Caesar nor Herod nor any other earthly ruler is the true king or true son of God. The true one is the baby of Bethlehem.
That kind of surprising encounter and revelation continues. Do we look for and welcome that surprise, do we expect that, do we pray for that? To do so might mean that we look beyond our own faith tradition to how God is speaking to non-Christians. I was surprised by how devoted both Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land were to very public expressions of their faith. As I watched a number of Bar and Bat Mitzvah processions near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it was an Epiphany to me that our American Christian expressions are comparatively muted and far less public and that we are free to do something different. What would a more public celebration of our Episcopal tradition look like? To look for and welcome that surprise might also mean that we look for the Spirit of Christ in unexpected people and places. My cab driver from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv was a Muslim man. We talked about a few trivial things along the way and then his phone rang. Although I am thoroughly monolingual, I shortly realized that he was talking to his wife and then his child, an almost one year old as I found out. The baby would make cooing and gibberish noises and his father would repeat them. That is a universal language.
I saw many holy places, and many people dressed in holy garb doing holy rituals, but for me this man talking to his child had a sweetness and holiness beyond all else I had experienced. It was the sharing of a love that all parents, regardless of their religious beliefs or nationality, have for their children. It was a reminder in that very divided land that we all love and want to be loved, and it was an Epiphany of that spirit of love implanted by God in all our hearts, a love that seeks relationship and expression. Imagine with me this Epiphany season, what good news it could be for all of us if we looked for what is loving and good in others and gave praise to God for those epiphanies.
Grace and peace,