Tomorrow marks an anniversary. It is the Day of Epiphany, of course, the celebration of the arrival of the wise travelers who made their way to Bethlehem to see Jesus. It is the day when we honor God’s early decision that the coming of Christ is for all people, a message of inclusivity, nondiscrimination, and acceptance, a radical form of hope and hospitality.
January 6 also marks another anniversary. It is not an anniversary of hopefulness and unity but rather for the United States, an anniversary of violence and insurrection. As a Christian in America, we can no longer hold one meaningful observance without also remembering this great event of disunity for our country. We have both to reckon with.
The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word, epiphaneia, which means “appearance” or “manifestation” and is referring to the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world. I’ve always thought of the word “epiphany” as the more commonplace event of the “aha moment,” a manifestation of some revelation. I always imagined it as a good thing. And in the theological and biblical realms, this manifestation of Christ is good; but just as the announcement of the birth of Christ to the powers that be, namely King Herod, was not received as good news and instead resulted in the genocide of infants throughout the region, perhaps it’s important to remember that the manifestation of Christ isn’t celebrated and welcomed by everyone. In Christ’s coming, after all, “the proud are scattered, the powerful are brought down from their thrones, the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things, and the rich are sent away empty.” (Luke 1). The Good News isn’t good for everyone.
As we mark Epiphany this year, remembering that Christ comes to all and that the message of hope is a message for all people, all races, all nations, we also remember that not everyone wants this sort of inclusivity in our society, maybe even in our churches. And in our hands we must hold both grief in the pain of our brokenness as a world and gratitude that God still intends for God’s realm to be broad and wide and for all.
Author Francis Weller writes that “the work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them.” He continues, “How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I only carry grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.”
On this year’s Epiphany observance, when we must sit with both sorrow and joy, let us hold in authenticity, the grief for the brokenness in our hearts, in our homes, in our society; but let us also hold gratitude in knowing that in the midst of the grief and in spite of our brokenness, God comes. To us all, God comes.
You are the light of the world!