Epiphany: A Commitment to Change

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"Going into the house they saw the Child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him." Matthew 2:11

The word epiphany literally means “to shine upon.” It recalls the visit of the magi to Jesus when the star they followed brought them to the Light that then shone upon them. They worshiped Him, then departed, changed forever by the eternal, incarnate Light.

If you’ve ever attended a Roman Catholic worship service, you’ll notice when they recite the Nicene Creed they bow reverently at the phrase “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.” The Church has long recognized the profound beauty and awesome import of God becoming man. Christmas is not merely a transformed winter holiday. It is the heartbeat of God. Mankind’s longed-for desire to unite with God began with God’s magnificent reversal. He became like us so we may become like Him.

Annually during Advent we memorialize this wondrous event. We all should bow, and I truly hope you did. It is a time of high worship.

But what now? The Epiphany invites us to reflect on what we do with our recent encounter with the Christ-child. Advent is about the coming of Christ into the world and into your life in a new way. What changes will linger?

The way we make religious commitments and changes has long fascinated me. How do you come to a new or deeper religious awareness? We don’t do it alone, of course. It’s a divine/human synergy, God’s leading combined with our following. His offer followed by our yes. For some people the same series of religiously significant events leads to a deep change. For other less so. And still others will be untouched. Why?

I think the God-side of this equation is constant. Grace is certainly available to all His children. I reject the idea that God enables one to respond positively but withholds the grace of change from another. The real variable is on our side, and it lies in our volition.

Epiphany invites us to make a choice. So, simply choose. Declare. Say, or even better write down, what you want to do with this most recent Advent. It doesn’t have to be complex, and it doesn’t have to be on the order of building an ark. Perhaps it will simply be to start saying a prayer every day. Good! Or going regularly to worship. Working with the poor. Disciplined giving to your church. When talking to people who are already Christians, I often encourage them to lean into the teaching of their church. That may mean returning to worship, going to confession, or attending a Bible study. The practices of the church have been developed over hundreds of years, or even thousands. Take advantage of the collective wisdom and inspiration of people who made a lifetime of listening to God.

The fervor of any Epiphany commitment is hard to sustain. What begins with a renewed religious zeal on January 6 may perish in the cold and busy winds of February. The magi had a star to guide them and met the holy family itself. But right after that sublime encounter they had to evade a murderous king. Darkness always challenges the Light, but it cannot overcome the Light. Follow Jesus. Reengage the commitment. Keep walking. You never arrive at the wrong destination by faithfully traveling the right road.

Spiritual growth is a lifelong commitment. You will make progress that you can note sometimes. Other stretches of time appear dull. You’ll wonder if it’s worthwhile, or effective. The real kicker is that you’re not qualified to grade yourself. Sometimes religious commitments can feel alternately like a revelation one day and a slog the next.  Just keep going back to Jesus. He will always shine upon you.

Grace and peace,

Dr. Terry Ellis