Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
Epiphany is one liturgical drama. It begins with the Lord’s birth, but is followed by unique revelations step by step, until Lent. No single part of the drama can embrace the full truth of the proclamation that God had become man – that light had entered the world’s darkness, and that mankind can participate in Christ’s divinity – no single event can fully unravel the magnificent scale as outlined in the words of St. John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word” now made flesh. The liturgy of the Church in a spectacular way provides a whole pageant, step by step, “manifesting” or revealing the fullness of the drama of the coming of Christ to Bethlehem and his work as Saviour.
When Christmas trees are being dumped, this is just the beginning of our journey of faith so now we must step outside the busy world. Then we hear of the foreign Magi, appearing after the local shepherds of Judea, telling us that Christ was for everyone. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name”. [John 1;12] The first days after Christmas do not avoid the dark world. We recall Stephen our first martyr, the horror of the Holy Innocents, (still repeated in every generation and culture). We meditate with St John the beloved disciple who wrote to the Churches facing persecution, again continuing at a greater pace today yet reminding us that “the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not”. [John 1;5]
Epiphany is a drama unfolding many acts of revelation. None greater than the final prophet who, “came to bear witness to the Light that all men through him might believe”. In Christ’s baptism by John is revealed the overshadowing of the heavenly Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the beloved Son. In each episode the Gospel and the liturgy of the Church take us ever more deeply into this truth, that God had been manifested in the man-child of Bethlehem.
Every episode prepares us for that most difficult step into the Passion and Easter. This is beautifully underlined at the February Feast of Candlemas, in which the worshipper turns now from Bethlehem and a birth to Jerusalem and the Cross, so we who believe become like Simeon in St. Luke’s Gospel saying “For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles.” [Luke 2;30-31] But also with the Blessed Mother to face the implications that, “this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also, [Luke 2;34-35]
Living in this present world, Christians will need these Epiphany stepping stones to form their minds, before beginning the difficult journey of Lent, Holy week which will demand a personal transfiguring of our hearts and lives to engage with the truth as spoken by St John “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1;14]
Fr. Geoffrey Neal