Each year, we close the Christmas season by celebrating Epiphany on January 6, the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas. This day marks Jesus’ manifestation to the world. An epiphany is defined as a sudden insight or realization often brought on by an ordinary experience. The wise men were simply going about their usual work (though 2000 years later, nothing about their work seems usual to me) and in that ordinary work of being a sage from the East, they found where the star was leading, and they were overwhelmed with joy.
The end of 2020 gave us all the amazing gift of seeing Jupiter and Saturn align in the sky and create the Bethlehem Star. As we all learned, this could have been the astronomical event that the wise men from the East were following to find the baby in the manger. When my family and I looked between the trees and over the rooftops to see the stars, I was amazed again at the connectedness of our human family and the entire creation, and I felt the enormity of the world and its history. I was also struck by the simplicity of this miraculous event. I was just standing in my front yard like I do every day. I was looking through the same trees and over the same rooftops I see every day. We stood still for a few minutes to take in the sight, and then we just turned around and went back inside. It was amazing and it was cloaked in my very ordinary life.
This is one important aspect of the Christmas story that we internalize during Epiphany. The amazing infinite God of all that is and all that will ever be came to dwell with ordinary us. When we sit with that and let it sink in, we cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the enormity of that miracle. It is THE amazing story cloaked in the ordinariness of life. At the beginning of this new year in a pandemic and amidst national political upheaval, the ordinariness of life can feel heavy and includes separation, illness and suffering, the deaths of loved ones, new or worsened poverty, and the weight of our entire country’s death-toll from COVID-19 and the growing number of infections, and so seeing these epiphanies of God’s presence and grace are especially important to sustain us.
Debra Dean Murphy recently wrote about the deceased author Bryan Doyle and his epiphanies in the Christian Century:
“…his son faithfully, wordlessly wrestled socks onto Doyle’s own feet every morning during a period of intense, immobilizing pain. Of all the possibilities of love between two people, that simple act of caretaking occasioned for Doyle a wondrous epiphany, one that can do some work for all of us when we too find ourselves overcome by overtures of grace in the midst of suffering or sorrow that might otherwise crush us: “No matter what happens to me, that happened to me.”
As you live into your to-do lists and hopes for 2021, make sure that paying attention to the overtures of grace tucked into the ordinariness of life is somewhere on your list. No matter what else happens to you, these extraordinary moments of love and kindness also happen to you. Pay attention to them and for at least a moment, be overwhelmed with joy.