Have you ever had an epiphany? Do you know what it is? One of my favorite photos is a picture of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the post-it note. When he was asked to describe how he came up with the idea of the post-it note, he drew a picture of a light bulb on a post-it note and stuck it to his head. This is the common understanding of what an epiphany is. A sudden insight that completely changes how you understand something. An epiphany is a light bulb turning on in your head. At least that is how we have come to understand it. But this is not what an epiphany originally meant. Was it a sudden insight that completely changed how you understood something? Yes. But it was more than that. An epiphany is a gift of enlightenment from God. In an epiphany, God shines out. From this perspective, God’s first epiphany was at the beginning of creation when He said “Let there be light!” This is how it would generally be understood. In an epiphany, God reveals.
But beyond this is a deeper more specific meaning of Epiphany. More than an epiphany (one of many shining forth from God), there is the Epiphany (that is God revealing – or shining forth – Himself). Today, we celebrate THE Epiphany. And it is important for us to distinguish it from the several epiphanies that appear in our text for this morning. For in understanding the distinction between the one Epiphany and the many epiphanies, we see the distinction between God’s revelation to us and God’s revelation of Himself to us.
Now, our text for this morning begins with wise men that came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The wise men saw a light that led them to find the one born king of the Jews. God gave them that star to follow; God’s light shown out in that star; and God gave these men the insight into what that star meant. God gifted them with AN epiphany. But that was not THE Epiphany. It only pointed the way.
Next, Herod the king and the all of Jerusalem were given an epiphany. They heard the words of the wise men when they said, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” They understood the significance of these words. The promised Messiah had come. God revealed this to the wise men as a gift and they in turn shared that gift with Herod and the people of Jerusalem. God had given them AN epiphany, but that was not THE Epiphany. It only pointed the way.
Next, both Herod and the wise men were given an epiphany. The chief priests and scribes revealed were the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” God gave this word through the prophet, and the chief priests and scribes in turn shared it with Herod, who shared it with the wise men. God had given them AN epiphany, but that was not THE Epiphany. It only pointed the way.
Then, the wise men again were given an epiphany. “The star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” God’s light shown out and directed them to the place where this newborn king lay. The wise men saw the light and they understood its meaning. God had given them AN epiphany, but that was not THE Epiphany. It only pointed the way.
But then something different happened. “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” They walk into a humble house, not a great palace. There is no divine light shining before them; no king enthroned in power; no royal court to carry out his will. There is only a lowly peasant with her helpless child. But in that instant, their eyes are opened and they are given THE Epiphany. God is revealed before them. In this humble child held by His lowly peasant mother, they see before them the King of kings, mighty God, and Lord of lords; they see the author of all creation; the Alpha and Omega; the Beginning and the End. The fullness of God lies before them as a helpless child in the arms of Mary. And when they beheld Him, they fell down on their faces and worshipped Him. This is THE Gift of Epiphany. God has revealed Himself.
We each have been given THE gift of Epiphany from God, and each one of us is AN epiphany to this world. God does not reveal Himself through this world – whether through stars in the sky or signs on the earth – but He uses them. You cannot look to God’s creation and see THE Epiphany of God, but God used His creation as an epiphany pointing the way. God does not reveal Himself though knowledge and wisdom, but He uses them. You cannot look inside yourself and see THE Epiphany of God, but God gives us His inspired Word as an epiphany to point to THE Epiphany. And He sends us as His Body to proclaim that Word. We are not THE Epiphany, but each one of us is AN epiphany pointing to Him. Where is THE Epiphany to be found? In the manger, in His mother’s arms, in His homeless wanderings with His disciples, but most of all on the cross, where He suffered and died, freely giving Himself to pay the penalty for your sin and mine. We cannot conceive of Him in our mind through our wisdom; we cannot attain to Him through our works in this world. But only through the faith of Jesus Christ, God gives us Himself and saves us from ourselves. THE CROSS IS OUR EPIPHANY.