Often, over the course of our lives, we have heard the expression, “I had an epiphany last night!”. It is a saying that kind of reminds us of the “Eureka” that Alexander Bell shouted out when he heard his telephone work for the first time. An epiphany with a little ‘e’ is about a life changing experience that happens perhaps once or twice in a lifetime that changes everything about the way we think, the way we live and the way we are. Just such an epiphany was the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan for John and John’s disciples.
In our Western churches, Epiphany (with a Big ‘E’) commemorates the revealing of the infant Jesus to the Shepherds and Three Wise Men who had come from the East. In Eastern churches, it celebrates the baptism of Jesus. In the Anglican tradition, we walk the fence . . . as usual . . . and celebrate both. The word Epiphany comes from a Greek that means to appear or to show oneself. When we use the term ‘to have an epiphany’ we mean that God has revealed himself (or something) important to us.
Between the three Wise Men bearing their gifts to the Christ child in the Feast of Epiphany gospel we heard a week ago and the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan in this week’s gospel, there appears to be about a thirty-year gap. We know little or nothing about the life of Jesus outside of his three years of ministry recorded in the gospels. We know he grew up as a carpenter under Joseph’s instruction. But we have little knowledge of his schooling, his teen years, his birthdays, his likes or his dislikes. (We have no idea whether he liked broccoli or not.) There exists an additional text not used in the Bible called The Gospel of St. Thomas that described some of this life, but it was discounted by the church fathers a long time ago as a myth.
There are many church teachers who believe that Jesus had no idea that he was the Son of God until the voice from heaven revealed it the day he was baptized. They believe that this miracle caused his epiphany, and that his ministry began at these words from the Father in heaven. Others believe that Jesus always was aware of his true identity from birth and that the voice was manifested to confirm it, not only to Jesus, but especially to others like John and his disciples, standing by. They believe the voice of confirmation caused John the Baptist to have an epiphany and confirmed his role as the Preparer of the Way, which also lead to his eventual arrest and execution by Herod. It also confirmed for John’s disciples, that here was the Messiah, pronounced by their own master, as the one. . . “And I myself have seen and testified that this is the Son of God”. And there are still others that believe that this story was included in the gospels to confirm to you, the listener, that indeed this man Jesus, is the Son of God. In this way, and through hearing this Gospel, you too, might have an epiphany of your own . . . and believe.
Life changing experiences come in many forms and in many ways. In today’s story, the disciples of John will eventually leave the Baptist to go and stay with Jesus. They never look back after that, and are always with him throughout the gospels up until the time of the end. And that is the way Jesus works, through life altering encounters, for some, similar to Jacob, wrestling with an angel, and for others, simply an invitation to ‘come and see’.
I have witnessed many people having life changing experiences at Cursillo. One of those was that of Bob Coykendale, a local justice of the peace and an Historian. He came to Cursillo No. 1 and was totally startled into the realization that God could reveal Himself in such a profound way to him. I was Bob’s table leader, and every time I ever saw him after that time, he reminded me of the event. And that was almost 40 years ago. Others in the Cursillo movement could tell you of many, many people to whom God revealed himself in the three day encounter.
Other life changing experiences come in times of sickness or distress. In my own life, I have nearly died twice. During these times, at each moment, when I felt most abandoned, here was God, ready to release me from my pain and uncertainty, and envelope me with his healing touch. These times were for me, my own epiphany, the times when I felt most changed and most committed to doing his will. But, it should come as no surprise that God would reveal himself at our weakest, most vulnerable moments in our lives. It is at those times in our lives that He has our full attention. It is at those times that we are most vulnerable and most open to his spirit . . . especially if we want to live.
But, there are other times . . . times of God’s own choosing, when he reveals himself to us that causes us to change our lives in mid-stream. These are the mountain top experiences that we hear about that cause a 180 degree turn in the way we live. It might come from a confirmation class, or through a hearing a sermon, or watching the news, or through something as simple as a photograph in a magazine. God uses all methods in trying continually to communicate to us, but it is up to each of us to keep our spiritual eyes and ears open in order to be aware of his presence.
I believe that, in the case of Jesus, Jesus must have grown up like any normal adolescent. I can’t be sure of that, of course, but the Bible always mentions that he was a person, a human, just like us, who lived as a man and was tempted as a man, so that he would know us and, perhaps more importantly, he would know all of our faults and foibles. And if he did this, if he truly lived like one of us, then he too, must have had his own epiphanies, perhaps one that drove him out to see John his cousin, to take on the baptism of repentance and new life that John offered his followers. Because, it was directly after this baptism that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan. Perhaps it was part of this epiphany or perhaps he planned it all along, no one knows for sure. But it was at this pivotal event that his life was changed and that his ministry began. And because of His epiphany, many millions of believers experienced their own epiphany and came to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
But that’s not where it ends . . . not by a long shot. God continues to reveal himself to all people, in all generations, so that we might inherit the story of his redemption and his love. Because, just like ripples in a pond, all of us throughout all generations affect the generation from which we came and the future generations that are yet to be born. We do this through our own individual epiphanies of celebration in the power of God to change lives. For in this way God acts and is revealed from one generation to another. The most important thing we all should realize and keep forever in our hearts is that the only Christ that some may meet in their lives is the one that we mirror in our thoughts, in our words and in our deeds. This is how Jesus worked back two thousand years ago when he told the disciples, ‘come and see’ when asked where he was staying . . . and it is the same way he works today in the hearts and minds of all the faithful. Amen