Epiphany has come to mean any dramatic or important sudden understanding. To have an epiphany is to have a Eureka moment in which our eyes are opened to a truth, which before was hidden to us. In the Church the great Eureka is about Gentiles, people not immersed in the Jewish faith, discovering the truth about Jesus Christ. Also called Three Kings Day, Epiphany was on January 6 this year. It commemorates the wise men, who, after seeing the star of the Messiah, come from far away to offer him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Kings, wise men, astrologers, the key thing about them in the story is that whatever they might be, they are not Jews, and yet God has revealed himself to them. Even as a baby, Jesus is knocking down the barriers that separate God’s people. Even at the very beginning of the story of Jesus, the Spirit of God is using him to bring people together that were not together before.
Theophany is a word with a similar ring to it and is the word bible scholars use to describe something like what happens in today’s gospel reading. It is an event, a happening, in which God is in some way revealed. In this case, at the event of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, there is a revelation of God as a Holy Trinity. Jesus is there in the flesh, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove, and there is a voice from God the Father naming Jesus as the Son in whom he is well pleased.
There are other times in scripture in which God is revealed; in fact, all of scripture in some way or another could be thought of as the record of God’s self revelation throughout history through the people of Israel. The scripture is Heilsgeschichte, as the old German theologians have called it. It is salvation history, and what is salvation other than coming to know and to love the God who calls us to be saved. But it is also more than history, because just as the saying goes that one who does not know their history is doomed to repeat it, in this case, the one who knows their history is blessed to repeat it, because the God who showed up time and again to the people of Israel and to the infant Church described in the Scriptures keeps showing up and revealing himself even to us, even today. We have the honor of participating in salvation present, the current and ever-living presence of God in the here and now among us.
You know, today’s service is a little more interactive than some here at First, it being the day of the hymn sing. Back when I would go to the Baptist Church, every day was a hymn sing because there was no bulletin. That wouldn’t fly in the Lutheran Church, we have to have bulletins so we know when to stand and sit. We would sing hymns for half an hour, then have a half-hour-long sermon. You don’t need a bulletin for that.
I’m not going to preach for half an hour today. As you might remember, I come with a ten-minute guarantee. If I can’t say it in ten minutes, I can’t say it. But we are going to keep the spirit of interactivity in the sermon today, so I want you all to think for a moment of some adjectives that describe you. And just in case it’s been too long since freshman comp, adjectives are things like beautiful, smart, irritated, funny, and words like that. And just to make sure that you are not overtaken either by personal bravado or negativity, make sure that your list includes both things that are good and not so good. Take a moment and in the privacy of your own mind, and as we do in that moment of silence during confession and forgiveness, be honest with yourself. What are some truths about you?
Everybody think of some words? Good. Now first I want you to recognize, as long as you did what I asked and were not thinking about where to go to lunch, how precious that moment was. A moment of complete honesty before God. It is in moments like that, when wonderful things happen, wonderful insights and revelations, moments of raw honesty before God and in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ, how precious this gathering is where we come together and should not be afraid to admit our faults and our failings and our misunderstandings, and allow our gifts to be blessings to others.
If you feel that your life is shy on epiphanies and theophanies, moments of insight and moments of God’s presence, I encourage you to ask yourself how much space and time you give to listening for God. Or to phrase it as a question: if God were to speak to you today, would you notice? Or tomorrow, or next week, or are all your moments already accounted for? Take time to listen.
How did your list make you feel? Do you agonize over the things about you that are not so great? Do they make you nervous? Would you rather not think about them? What were the good things that you celebrate? How many of the things you think about yourself are from you and how many of them were put there by someone else? Which of the things in your list matter the most? All good questions.
Whatever words describe you, I would like to invite you to add a new word to your list this morning, and keep it there. Theophany. God once revealed God’s nature through the baptism of his Son, the falling of his Spirit and God’s own precious voice, but that is not the only way God is revealed. You are a revelation of God. God made you, God has been with you, God has guided you and has stayed with you when you failed, and so your story is a part of salvation history. Your present is a part of salvation present.
The story of God’s creative and saving work is not just contained in the pages of an old book, however important that old book is to us. God reveals himself in you; that’s why you are so important here. Without knowing you, we all know God less. And, yes, that includes the things on your list of adjectives that are not so great, because without them there would be no place for God to show his grace, no place for the Spirit to manifest God’s power.
Christ did not come to save imaginary sinners, as Luther says, but people whose lists encompass real troubles. To realize that we are an expression of God kind of helps us to put the other words on our lists in their appropriate places. When you come to that realization and live with it, really take the time to live with it, to own it and make it a part, the biggest part of who you are, it’s a real Eureka moment, a kind of epiphany that rather than being made once and for all has to be realized time and again, in ups and downs. In Church and when Church is far away. But no matter our fickle and changing list of perceptions, there is truth that has come down as a voice from heaven. And considering the source, I suggest we listen carefully. For Jesus is not stingy with his identity as the Son of God, but says that in him we all become Children of the heavenly Father. Add to the top of your list that you are a child of God, that you are beloved; with you, through Christ, God is well pleased.