This Wednesday is Epiphany. It is the day we celebrate the coming of the Magi to Jesus and Mary. But why do we call it “Epiphany”? Why not “Visitation” or “Magi Day” or something of that sort.
An epiphany is when we encounter the divine and our world view is changed because of that … we are enlightened to the deep meaning of God. It’s a eureka moment … a “aha” moment. The Magi had followed a star, but without really knowing what they would encountered. When they arrived and saw Jesus, then they realized that God was present among them and their lives would forever be changed by that.
Have you had such a moment when something happens and the world seems to open up to you … a moment you can never forget?
Here’s a couple of examples from my experience:
When I was just starting out training for the ministry, I had such a moment. I interned at the Community Church of Cedar Grove up by Montclair. We were gathering for a noon time lunch and event. As I stood watching the folks gather, I had this feeling wash over me that this was the right place, the right time and the right effort for me. That’s when I knew going into the ministry was the right thing for me.
Very recently I had a more contemporary epiphany.
The owners of my hospice, Homeside Hospice, made a decision this Christmas season to give back into the community. They knew God had been good to us in our efforts to care for the terminally ill. They felt that we should give back. They decided to adopt families who could not afford a Christmas.
Now I was fortunate … or rather they were fortunate … that I am connected through our denomination and churches to folks who could connect us with families.
After the meeting I sent an email to one of the ministers at Westfield Congregational and one of the parishioners who is a law guardian in the Union County Public Defender’s office. Five minutes after I sent the e-mail, Rev. Joy sent me a family in Plainfield. Two days later, Donna sent me a second in Elizabeth.
My hospice adopted these two families as well as a third. I gave them a list of gifts requested for both families. The nurses magnified that list into a very generous offering to these two families.
I helped delivered the gifts of food, clothing, and toys to each family. Our Elizabeth family came through St. Joe’s RC in Elizabeth who was our contact. When we arrived at the church was a long line of folks come for food. When I talked to the sister there she was frazzled in this season. She had 1200 families she was caring for. Unfortunately our family was not there and we couldn’t meet them.
But we did meet our family in Plainfield. Many of the nurses including one of our owners did the delivery. The mother was in tears (and so were the nurses) with the generosity. We were in the right place and the right time for the right reason …and our world shifted a bit from shepherding folks back into God’s eternal arms to folks just getting started.
We were agents of God’s grace to these families. The hospice will be changed by this … we will be following these families in this new year.
And it is God’s grace that opens up to us in an epiphany. God’s grace opened up to the Magi when they knelt before a new born baby. It opened up for us and our families.
It opens up for you … If you are mindful of God throughout your lives, God will frequently offers you these divine moments.
In our lesson from John’s Gospel, John tells us that in the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus, we receive grace on grace. This phrase offers us an epiphany for this new year, especially when we're struggling on our way out of deep economic troubles. It may be a kind of secular heresy to see plenty right now, to see abundance, to see fullness even in a time like this. However, if we can claim that there is more than enough of everything we need most: forgiveness and reconciliation, grace, life, truth, joy, generosity, healing, justice, perhaps we can also believe that there is more than enough of what our bodies need to live on: food, water, land, clothing, and shelter.
Imagine what the world would be like if we forgave our enemies and offered the hand of reconciliation. Imagine what the world would be like, if instead of worry about the cost of health, we offered it to one and all. Imagine if we insisted that our neighbors, our journalists, our public servants, and ourselves tell the truth! Imagine if we rejoiced in our diversity and encouraged and nurtured it, rather than trying to homogenize it into one bland landscape. Imagine if we welcomed immigrants with open arms, here in the land of immigrants. Imagine if we insisted on justice even for those who are unable to speak for themselves: the severely disabled, the children, the alzheimers victim, and so forth.
Imagine that we did this out of shear grace … wanting nothing back, demanding no payment.
This is what God does everyday for us … offer us shear grace. And the promise of God is that if we do it too, then everyone, including us, will have enough to eat, enough health care, a home, and opportunity. That’s God’s promise.
But do you trust God enough to go through with it?
We have to be primed for grace. We have to be ready and open to sense it and embrace it. The Magi didn’t know what they would encounter, but they were open to whatever they would encounter … and they were receptive and they changed.
So must we. John tells us that Jesus came as a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome it. And we who accept Jesus as God are called to be that light today … a light in the darkness of despair, of greed, of violence, of prejudice and of hopelessness.
We are the primer that will stir folks up to see the world anew. God has given us the resources … and the grace and privilege. It is now our role to give the light and the hope to the world. We must in our everyday lives play out the grace of God.
“Grace” is a beautiful word … we often use it as a name. But unless we act on it, it is just an empty word. If we act on it, live it, and pass it on, the word becomes flesh and real and operative.
This may sound like a huge demand. But God doesn’t expect any single one of us to solve world hunger or bring peace to the world. That’s God’s job. But God does that job through each of us. Every little bit that we do to offer grace to someone else, who just might pass it on, contributes to God’s work here among us.
Henri Nouwen's in his diary from Genesee Abbey describes the Nativity set under the altar there. It had "three small, featureless wooden figures representing the holy family. Although smaller than a human hand, a bright light shining upon them projected their large shadows upon the wall of the sanctuary." Nouwen observes: "Without the radiant beam of light shining into the darkness there is little to be seen. I might just pass by these three simple people and continue to walk in darkness. But everything changes with the light"
We are the candle that shines the light of grace. Let it shine in this year … let your living be an epiphany of God’s good work.
God’s grace and peace be with you all …