Epiphany – when a shaft of light shines on the place where Jesus lays, when strangers from a great distance bring gifts to pay homage, when angels speak to us in dreams –
I would like Epiphany to be that clear, that obvious, that indisputable.
But Epiphany seems to happen in my life in a more twisting and turning way:
when a story fills me with renewed faith, when a journey teaches me something, when a vision becomes reality
Epiphany happens along the journey, when we gather together.
It's more like the vision of Isaiah 60:
in the midst of thick darkness the LORD will arise,
lift up your eyes and look around—all gather together
your sons shall come from far away, your daughters too
then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…
During the days of Christmas, I saw a film that projected a vision like this. In the story from South Africa, “Beat the Drum,” a small boy named Musa has lost nearly his whole family – his mother, then his father, nearly all Musa’s family have died by a mysterious disease. The story opens at the grave, in deep grief. The situation is so desperate that Musa sets out on a journey to Johannesburg, to find work and his missing uncle. He takes with him just one possession – a gift from his father, a drum.
Musa makes it to Johannesburg and lives in the streets, with many other desperate children and youth. He is confronted with many of the stark realities of urban life in deep poverty.
Musa and the people whose lives intersect with his face many perils. In the face of those perils, Musa says that his mother taught him to pray and he prays for a new day—that someday they might experience a safe place to sleep, enough to eat, a place to play. As Musa encounters many struggling people, his very presence causes people to gain courage, to speak the truth, to reach out to one another. His drumbeat gathers the community together.
When a new and safe place to live is at last offered to him, Musa looks up into the face of his benefactor and says, “Mister, did God send you?” The man has an epiphany, “No, Musa, it is the other way around.”
Epiphanies—these are the moments in life when we see—God revealed and present where we did not expect God to be—the indomitable spirit of a little Zulu boy who speaks truth and reveals God-with-us—the revelation that God has entered into our history as one of us.
What can we do in response to these moments, when we see God revealed in a little drummer boy? Well, even though it was “only a movie,” the truth of this story was so real to me that I was overwhelmed. In the midst of the direst circumstances, in the midst of AIDS that is in reality killing millions of people and has already left 12 million orphans in Africa, God’s light shines and reveals God’s presence, not only with the suffering ones but with those who beat the drum to bring people together, to bring truth, to bring healing, to bring a new day —I could see God present in Musa, my heart thrilled and I was overwhelmed not only with pain but with joy.
That’s what Epiphany is about--people gather, strangers together with families and right in the middle of us, Jesus is here. We share a meal in which Christ is present, in bread and wine, in the communion of people coming to the table together.
We come, empty, wanting to see Jesus revealed, wanting to be filled.
We come, bearing gifts.
We are looking for the place to bring what God has given us to share.
This is the time, this is the place.
Come and gather at this table to share in this meal where Jesus is the host.
Lay your gifts at the altar so that they may be shared with the community in need far beyond this place.
We may only experience it in part this Epiphany, but this is where we practice God’s vision.
In the midst of whatever troubles us/confounds us in life, the LORD will arise,
lift up your eyes and look around—we all gather together
your sons shall come from far away, your daughters toothen you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…it will be a new day.
In the unfailing light of Jesus,