Epiphany: When God Shows Up
Rev. John P. Feagins
In modern use, the word epiphany describes the recognition of a new idea or understanding, that light-bulb moment. Perhaps you’ve had an epiphany where you saw something in a new way or gained a new understanding.
In Christianity, Epiphany describes something God does in the world. Epiphany is a manifestation or appearance and revelation of God. Our faith professes a God who becomes visible, present, and known, often in new and amazing ways. The liturgical season of Epiphany begins on January 6 every year and lasts until Lent. During this season, the Church hears stories of God’s revelation to humanity in Jesus, the Star of Bethelehem, the Spirit and voice of God at Jesus’ baptism, and other miracles.
We all know Christians who possess great faith. These saints demonstrate a surety of God’s presence, goodness, and love regardless of circumstances. By grace, these souls have been gifted with a special sense of the divine and a peace that passes all understanding. When they read the Bible, they hear God speaking to them. When they pray, they feel God’s embrace and know God is listening. When they suffer, they know God cares and will deliver them, regardless of the material outcome. To such saints, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” ( John 20:29).
I admire that kind of faith even as I am personally convicted by its innocence and strength. For myself and perhaps for you, such faith does not come easily. It is one thing to understand Christian doctrines, morals, traditions, and creeds, and to discern between what is just and unjust, but quite another to trust in God the same way we trust in a chair before we sit down or trust in food before we eat. Victorious, courageous, and bold faith is a special gift. For many, it may require an awakening, an experience, an epiphany.
This is why I love the epiphany season. Epiphany demonstrates that God loves us enough to take the initiative to appear to us in special ways. By so doing, God hopes to amaze, convince, and convert us. The scriptures consistently attest to the human response to God’s manifestation just as theology attempts to interpret that experience.
It is not by pride that I confess how dependent my own faith has been on moments when God shook my life with significant experiences. My return to church and to faith as a student and my subsequent calling into ministry were prompted by such experiences. Even today, my faith is sustained by them.
It seems that God knows when I am hurting, drifting, doubting, and wandering, and finds a way to send a star, a dove, an angel, a sign, or some other epiphany to provide that unexplainable but understandable message that redirects and reminds this soul of the sovereignty of God’s love, providence, and purpose. Perhaps someday I will learn to trust more fully, but until that time, I am grateful to a God who keeps showing up.
As with any sign, the effectiveness of an epiphany depends on how we read it and whether we heed it. There are times when I have been in the company of others when God became manifest. In some instances, those who witnessed God’s power and presence were awakened to faith, understood why God’s grace was shown to them, and turned from vain self-indulgence and sin to pledge their lives to Christ. In other cases, sadly, I have seen individuals receive even the gift of restored life, yet they experienced only a fleeting moment of wonder before taking back the reigns of their own chaotic destiny from the healing hands of their one-time Savior.
The gospels attest to this truth. If God showing up were sufficient, Jesus would not have been rejected and crucified. How we respond to God’s epiphany is up to us.