The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and means ‘manifestation’. It celebrates ‘the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ’. The six Sundays which follow Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation. For many Protestant churches, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The last Sunday of the Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday. It is a celebration of a spiritual moment of sudden insight or understanding. What if this Epiphany season we can reimagine the ways we present Jesus to world?
In a time when people in power in our nation seem to have forgotten the ethic of neighbor love and radical hospitality we may have the greatest opportunity to take seriously the person and work of Jesus. Talk of building walls, limiting access to the stranger, and political expediency all fly in the face of God being revealed in the person of Jesus. Perhaps we need a national Epiphany. Much confusion has been made over Jesus Christ throughout history that has not served well to keep the principles of Jesus alive in our culture. We must be clear Jesus was a person, historically situated, Christ is a title, a theological principle. Christ is beyond history and infinite (Spong 1993). While Christ is Divine, infinite, and unlimited, Jesus is enculturated and situated in space and time. Much of Christianity reconciles these two realities through hypostatic union or the doctrine which says Jesus was fully God and fully man.
I wonder what would happen if this Epiphany we focused our attention on the lived reality of Jesus? According to the New Testament (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission is inexplicable apart from others. Others, of course, are all people, particularly the oppressed and unwanted of society. Here is God coming into the depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing humanity from the ungodly principalities and powers that hinder people’s relationship with God (Cone 1997).
As Jesus becomes a friend to outcasts (Matt. 11:19), inviting them to eat with him, he epitomizes the scandal of inclusiveness for his time. What is manifested in his healing of the sick is pushed to an extreme in Luke 11 by his invitation to the ritually unclean to dine with him (McFague 1987). Throughout the narrative of the life of Jesus we discover a heart for access to health care especially among those who are experiencing the effects of poverty. The life and praxis of Jesus then does three things: (1) reflects an intimate relationship between Jesus and the oppressed; (2) radicalizes the oppressed to fight for their freedom; and (3) highlights the contradiction between the Divine and the oppressor.
This year as we consider the Epiphany season the opportunity to take seriously the embodied historical realities of Jesus the Palestinian Hebrew born under Roman occupation on the margins of society. As a member of a minoritized group under the thumb of a controlling dominant group Jesus was born in the poverty conditions of the underclass (Thurman 1976). This story reminds us that as followers of Jesus we must justly engage those among us considered the least of these. There is no way to take seriously the story of Jesus and allow the rich to hijack the religion that sprung up as a response to Jesus. Followers of Jesus are called to do justice and love mercy. The season we are now in provides us an occasion to remind our siblings that the cross of Jesus, a paradoxical religious symbol, inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The story of Jesus informs witness. We must pay closer attention to the ways in which Jesus was Immanuel and how we as partners with this witness must move into our own ministries of faithfulness and hope (Townes 1995). This Epiphany season calls for a national Epiphany!
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Spong, John Shelby. 1993. This Hebrew Lord: A Bishops Search for the Authentic Jesus. New York: HarperOne.
Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.
Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.