Epiphany

January 6, 2002
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 60:1-6
Reading 2: 
Psalm 72:1-7,10-14
Reading 3: 
Ephesians 3:1-12
Reading 4: 
Matthew 2:1-12
By Bruce G. Epperly

Contributed by Bruce G. Epperly and Anna Rollins

Epiphany and Adventure
Epiphany is the season of divine manifestation. During the season of Epiphany, we are reminded of God’s surprising grace which embraces foe as well as friend, secular as well as sacred, Gentile as well as the "chosen people." This year, our epiphany adventure will weave together the insights of process theology with the spiritual reflections of the African American theologian and mystic, Howard Thurman (1900-1981). No recent theologian or spiritual guide is more representative of the spirit of Epiphany than Howard Thurman, whose career as university chaplain, professor, and parish minister reflected the dream of a faith for all people. Thurman labored for over half a century to heal the barriers that separated humans from one another, especially the barriers of race and ethnicity. Thurman believed that the spiritual journey weaves together uniqueness and unity. "When I go down deep inside myself, I come up inside all other persons."

As a college student and later as a graduate student at Claremont, my spiritual life was shaped by encounters with Howard Thurman. In this month’s lectionary, I honor one of my own spiritual mentors, whose work embodied the spirit of healing and reconciliation that is more than ever necessary for individuals and communities.

For those who wish to explore Howard Thurman’s work, I commend the following books: The Centering Moment; Deep is the Hunger; Deep River and the Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death; Disciplines of the Spirit; The Growing Edge; The Inward Journey; Jesus and the Disinherited; With Head and Heart: An Autobiography.

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you….Lift up your eyes and look around…then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice."

On this twelfth day of Christmas, we celebrate the journey of the magi from the East. Followers of the God of light, they journey to worship the Savior of the World in the most unlikely of places – a rude stable among an oppressed people. Though outsiders, they see the light of God more clearly than God’s "chosen" ones, the royalty and religious leaders of Jerusalem. They follow a star and a dream to the place where the baby is laid.

"Your light has come." In the radiance of that holy light, we see the world differently. The world becomes transparent to the divine. Every encounter is an epiphany, every word a revelation, every challenge an opportunity to follow God’s dream. In seeing differently, we become witnesses to the world that love is stronger than hate and life stronger than death. In the spirit of Isaiah 60, Jesus proclaims, "you are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid….let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

In speaking of this luminous mysticism, Thurman proclaims, "This light is the very ground of all being, the ground of creativity. Every created thing has within it the signature of the Creator – His imprint, His stamp. You may think of the light in every person as the seal of the Creator. There is no one devoid of that light. Every person is born with it. We do not deserve any credit for having it. In truth, we cannot get rid of it. It is an inherent part of our nature."

We need God’s light both personally and corporately. And, we need to see the light in all of its distressing disguises. The Psalmist speaks of a leader who has seen the light, a king for whom justice is the first priority. Today, as we root out the evils of terrorism, we need more light as a nation and as a world community. Terrorism is symptomatic of the deeper injustices and inequalities upon which the light of divine healing must shine, if we are to find peace in our time. A ruler who sees the light lives by the spirit of tikkun ‘olam, "mending the earth." The events of September 11 call us to protect our nation and secure our freedom, but they also call us to explore the deeper meaning of "protection" that joins planetary well being with personal and national well being. Light bursts forth from all things. Each drop of existence is a singularity, worthy of honor and love. To our surprise, God’s light shines through those persons who are most disgusting and reprehensible to us.

In Ephesians, Paul proclaims that "the wisdom of God in all its variety" has been given to the Gentiles as well as his Jewish companions. Divine revelation is not limited to one ethnic, racial, age, gender, or religious group. All things declare God’s love at their deepest level. God’s voice speaks softly and gently in "sighs too deep for words" in the voice of a child, the touch of a spouse, an e-mail from a friend. How bountiful is God’s revelation! Even the most distressing moments can be the windows through which we glimpse a deeper epiphany and feel the touch of God’s healing presence.

Look deeply for the light of God. As Thurman notes, "What is forgotten is that life moves at a deeper level than the objective and data of the senses. We are most alive when we are brought face to face with the response to the deepest thing in us to the deepest thing in life. Consider the hackneyed illustration of the beautiful sunset! We see the sunset, we recognize color, shape, the general quality of the atmosphere – to those we respond. Then when in the midst of all this something else emerges – the sunset opens a door, in us and to us, of another dimension, timeless in quality that can only be described as ineffable, awe inspiring – then we know radical amazement….Spirit is met by Spirit and we are whole again."

Those legendary foreigners from the East are our spiritual guides today. They crossed the boundaries of geography, ethnicity, class, economics, and religion to follow their star. We have all been given our own star or, better still, many stars to guide our way. To quote Paulo Coehlo, the author of The Alchemist, each of us has a "personal legend." We embody God’s dream for the world in a unique and singular manner. Epiphany calls us to follow that dream into unlikely places and to see that dream in unlikely persons. Though some might seek to stifle them, God’s dreams for us will not die. They will guide and empower us to adventures of mind, body, spirit, and relationships even as they inspire us to venture forth into new frontiers.

Today, we need to nurture "big dreams" for ourselves and for our world. Small dreams will not do any longer. We need to follow God’s star in our churches – to experience its illumination and guidance as we seek to respond to the needs of the world. We need to marvel at the unexpected possibilities that are emerging right where we are. We do not know where the journey will end. But, let the Epiphany adventure begin!

The use of affirmations can change your life. Faith lives by what it affirms not what it denies. Accordingly, spiritual affirmations change the way we look at ourselves and the world in which we live. They literally transform our minds and inspire creative responses to lives challenges. They enable us to see differently and then act upon what we see.

As you read the scriptures, what word or phrase comes to you? Let these words sink in and nurture your spirit. Repeat them throughout the day. Let them guide your listening and writing. As I read the scripture, I am struck by the words "your light has come" and "radiance." From these words, I construct a healing and empowering affirmation such as: "God’s light is coming into my life constantly" or "Christ’s radiance shines in and through me, bringing healing and love to everyone I meet."

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.