Christmas is a short season, just twelve days. Many years not even two Sundays. Epiphany is a longer season. It starts usually in the middle of the Week on Epiphany proper with the Star and the Magi. (This year locally we will hold an Epiphany Vespers service, so if you find yourself with some extra-time Monday early evening, come on over and sing vespers with us. We’ll have cake afterward.) Epiphany starts with a bang and ends with a bang as well. The last Sunday of Epiphany is the Transfiguration a bright shining and leading star of a different sort. In between are eight Sundays, two months, where the altar cloths return to green. The stars fade, the surprising miracles and celebrations recede, and everyday life re-emerges. What that doesn’t mean is that God is not present or stops revealing himself. That is the core meaning of Epiphany, a revealing or a sighting of God. What the season captures is that we limited humans can’t take it all in at once. We also can’t live on the mountaintop, at least not yet. But we are called to follow.
One of my favorite bible verses is Genesis 28:16 which has Jacob blurting out “surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” It is a favorite because I think it captures our living experience in our modern world. It also captures the Spirit of Epiphany. I could say that we are taught a naked universe, and it would be true, but that is not the true source of our ignorance. Our ignorance of God starts out in ourselves and our sinful nature. We start out lost and estranged from God. We start out desiring our own way. It takes an Epiphany, a revelation of God, for us to see the larger reality of our world and our existence. For most that Epiphany is Baptism, but there are more dramatic ones. But just because we have such an Epiphany doesn’t mean that we like it, or follow it, or even know fully what it means. Jacob’s stated desire after his Epiphany was “so that I come again to my father’s house in peace.” Yet he didn’t turn around and go patch things up with Esau and the Father he and his mother had just conned. Jacob spends 14 years with Laban getting conned with Leah and then receiving Rachel. Only when that family situation becomes untenable does Jacob return and still in stark terror of Esau. Following the Epiphany was not Jacob’s strong suit.
Having an Epiphany is great, but the real task of an Epiphany is following. The Magi rejoiced and they followed the star. The disciples left the mount and returned to the plain and continued to follow Jesus. The Christian life is one of receiving the Epiphany and following. God is surely here. The Father’s providence continues over the seasons and the years. Christ is present with us in Word and Sacrament. He is present when we gather and goes with us when we go through the indwelling of His Spirit. God is surely in this place – our churches and our lives. The challenge of the Christian life is to see and receive and follow. Herod heard the report of the Magi along with the scribes. None of them followed. The Galilean and Judean crowds saw the miracles, but would each refuse to follow in their own way. The light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5), yet many yawn at the Christmas message and still more receive it and quickly turn away. The task of Epiphany is to learn to follow.
The stars of Epiphany are leading stars. Are you willing to follow where Epiphany shines?