“Beginning Manifestations: Everyday Epiphanies” ©
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Homily Thoughts on Feast of Epiphany, January 3, 2016
So here’s my confusion with the Gospel of John, admittedly referred to as the Gospel of Light. You would think that the Apostle John to whom Jesus entrusted his own Mother while dying on the cross, you would think that John would have all the best stories. You would think that over a good meal or two Mary would have shared with John all the stories of Jesus and that he would have remembered them. Surely this Mother who lost her son too soon and in such tragic and horrific circumstances told John all the stories going back to his birth and childhood.
You can, I hope, understand my confusion, can’t you, that the one person who presumably knew all those stories of birth and nurture chose to not tell them when he wrote his version of the Jesus story, the Good News.
It’s not like somebody else wrote this version. We have it on good authority from the 2nd century that the author of the Gospel of John is, in fact, who he says he is. He is the one whom Jesus loved, the one who took in Mary at her time of greatest need.
In the Beginning of the Gospel of John, instead of birth stories, stories of shepherds, angels, and stargazers, we get an invitation to hear the Word, the divine creative energy, and to see the Light. Read the beginning of John’s Gospel and you see what I’m talking about. In the Prologue (vs. 1-18) we get Epiphany as Manifestation. Jesus shows to all people, to all creation the light that shines through the darkness. The fullness of this Word – the Son coming from the Father – is love following upon love.
This is Epiphany. Not a story of stargazers visiting from another country. Not the closing of the Christmas Season so as to liturgically move to the next season. Not even some theological purpose of matching the lengthening of daylight with a growth of grace in one’s heart.
This is Epiphany as the beginning that frees each enlightened person to act in her/his own way as a child of the light. A beauty of John’s Gospel of Light is the tapestry he weaves of multiple manifestations – multiple epiphanies throughout. Let’s take three, for example.
The first comes immediately following the Prologue. John places Jesus before his cousin, John, at the Jordan River. The manifestation occurs once Jesus emerges from the water. People hear a heavenly voice that commands, “This is my Son. Listen to him.”
The second manifestation comes to select followers of Jesus who see him on a mountaintop in the company of Moses and Elijah – an epiphany that teaches them that Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets.
The third manifestation occurs after the blood and water flowed from the dead body of Jesus. The soldier who shoved the spear into the body knew that nothing flows from a corpse. This non-believer says in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, “Surely, this is the Son of God.”
Manifestations occur to reveal, to teach, to challenge us to always begin, to always step forward to act as Jesus did.
David Tracy, late of the University of Chicago Divinity School, says this about the person who experiences Epiphany as both Proclamation and Manifestation (Word & Sacrament):
“Scriptures will aid the expression in deed of the freedom of the self – a freedom for society, for history and for a new future which that paradigmatic word promises as pure gift from God and real command to the self to act in history for justice.” (The Analogical Imagination, p.210)
We are a people of Word and Sacrament, of Proclamation and Manifestation. As Tracy points out, each Manifestation is a free act of the person in response to the demand for justice. Epiphany is the beginning – over and over again – in which each of us acts responsibly, charitably, peacefully. No institution – either of the ecclesial or the secular variety – has the right to prevent these free acts of light for the world, of care for one another. Just as no church has the right to restrict a free act of gathering for worship, just so do we take upon ourselves this liturgy of Word and Sacrament – being a people of Proclamation and Manifestation.
John was loved by Jesus. We can be grateful that when John came to write his Gospel he showed the depth of his love in return. He made clear that the manifestations of Jesus among us do not have the purpose of closing a Season or putting a nice bow on a gift. The Manifestations that John shows are to deepen our resolve and to send us out with the Good News of Jesus to act in word and in deed.
All Holy One, we are your people who live by your Word and Sacrament. In this Season of the coming of your Son all the world and all creation are restored to you.
Today we celebrate the Proclamation of the Word become flesh and the Manifestation of love following upon love. May this Epiphany enlighten our minds and hearts. May it also overcome the dark of greed and lust, of self-righteousness and hate-mongering among us.
All peoples are guided by the light and direction of the Star that is a beacon for life, for freedom, justice and peace. We pray confidently that you will show your love to us as we pray in the Name of Jesus, the Christ Child and Promised One, who lives and loves with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (JR)
The Beginning of the Gospel of John.
In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.
The Word was present to God from the beginning.
Through the Word all things came to be,
and apart from the Word nothing came to be.
Whatever came to be in the Word found life,
life for the light of all people.
The light shines on in the darkness,
a darkness that did not overcome it.
The Word was in the world,
and it was through this Word that the world was made,
yet the world did not recognize the Word.
The Word came to his own,
yet some of these did not accept the Word.
Any who did accept the Word
were thus empowered to become children of God.
The Word became flesh and made a dwelling among us,
and we have seen that One’s glory:
The glory of God’s Own coming from our God,
filled with enduring love.
Of this One’s fullness we have all had a share –
love following upon love.
The Good News of Salvation!