We celebrate today the great feast, the “solemnity” of the Epiphany, otherwise known as “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” “Gentiles”, meaning all the peoples of the world other than the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. The Three Wise Men, the Magi, these emissaries from somewhere, represent the peoples of the world not of the twelve tribes. These Wise Men led by a star discover the Creator of the stars of night. And not in one of Herod’s sumptuous palaces, but in an unexpected place.
The Feast of the Epiphany stakes out the scope of Christian mission: the whole world. God’s concern, God’s mission, is all the peoples of the earth; God’s salvation is to reach to the twelve tribes and then beyond, to the ends of the world. Our calling as people of God is to manifest Christ to the world, to make known the “boundless riches of Christ” and the “wisdom of God in its rich variety”, as Ephesians puts it. We are, in a sense, a manifestation of Christ in the world; we, who are the Body of Christ, are a manifestation, an epiphany of Christ in the world and to the world. We are animated by his love active in us; we embody the grace and truth Christ incarnates in the world. And more.
We are a more brilliant epiphany, a more luminous manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, when we recognize the manifestation of Christ in the gentiles. That is, we are a more powerful witness to Christ when we recognize Christ already present in others. The Christ in us shines out more brightly when we recognize the Christ shining in others. And, as the Wise Men discovered, Christ shining in unexpected places.
We do not bring Christ to the world. Christ is in and through all things; all things came into being through him [John 1:3]. As our Rule puts it, drawing on the opening lines of the Gospel of John: “Christ is already present in the life of everyone as the light of the world. It is our joy to serve all those to whom we have been sent by helping them to embrace that presence in faith.” [Rule of the SSJE; Chap. 31; Mission and Service] Our mission is not to bring Christ to people, but to help people come to know and embrace Christ already present.
In our baptismal covenant we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”, loving our neighbors as ourselves [BCP p. 305]. This always reminds me of Matthew 25, where Jesus identifies himself with all who suffer (which is to say, all people): “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.” [Matthew 25: 35, 40]. In a sense, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned—in short, all who suffer—all these are a manifestation of Christ, the Christ who suffers in and through our suffering.
We are a more luminous manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, when we recognize the manifestation of Christ in the gentiles. A famous example of this is Mother Teresa, who was a brilliant epiphany of the love of God because she saw Christ in the suffering, she recognized the manifestation of Christ in the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. She had eyes to see.
As the old hymn puts it: God is love and where love is, God himself is there [Ubi caritas]. Wherever love is, God is there already. We don’t need to look very far to see love at work in the lives of people everywhere—we Christians have no monopoly on love (in fact, sometimes we’re not very good at it). But we will be a more luminous epiphany of the love of Christ not only when we love, but when we recognize Christ present in the loving hearts of others, whatever their beliefs or understanding of God.
So Christ is present and manifest to those with eyes to see in the suffering of the world—in unexpected places, even babies put to bed by poor parents in mangers. And Christ is present and manifest for those with eyes to see wherever love is present. Another unexpected place where Christ may be found but is often overlooked: Christ is present and manifest to those with eyes to see in all creativity, innovation and originality. Our first glimpse of God in the Bible is of God the creator, who “speaks” the universe into existence. The Word spoken is the Word made flesh, and the One through whom all things are made. And this same Word—Jesus Christ–said, “Behold, I make all things new.” [Rev. 21:5]
Creativity, innovation, originality: these have their source in God. These energies become active in us—some of us more, some of us less. We see these energies across the whole spectrum of human endeavor: in science, in technology, in the arts, in literature, in studies sacred and profane, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Globally, universally. The divine energies are not confined to those who self-identify as Christians; the creative energies of Christ the Word, the Logos, are not limited to Christians but dispersed throughout the whole of humanity. MIT, the MFA, MGH, Kendall Square, Silicon Valley, the Symphony, the Ballet, the ICA—these unexpected places, and many more, are manifestations of Christ, Christ the creative, innovative, originating Word. The riches of Christ are boundless, the wisdom of God has rich variety, Ephesians tells us.
All art, all invention and technology, all creativity, innovation and originality has a Christian character. In this sense: the Word of God, the Logos, the creative energies of Christ the Creator, are the source of all creativity, innovation and originality. We are human agents of these energies. (These energies can be perverted by a fallen humanity, but that’s a subject for another day.)
We who identify explicitly with Christ, we Christian people are the natural context for the divine energies of creativity, innovation and originality—whether it be artistic or scientific or technological or in any other way. We who identify explicitly with Christ ought particularly to be people who support creativity, who value innovation and foster originality. Ours is a very worldly religion—unashamedly, unabashedly. It is a worldly religion, in the sense that we are agents of God’s ongoing creative work in this world. We carry on Christ’s work of creating the world—even those of our human race who do not know Christ.
Christ is present and Christ the creating Word is manifest for those who have eyes to see in all the peoples of the earth. We believe in a God who will not be confined to a box, even as large a box as the Church. We proclaim rightly that Christ is the Light of the World. We even see ourselves as participants in the manifestation of Christ to the world. We are the Body of Christ, after all, so we are caught up in his great Epiphany. But we are a more luminous manifestation of Christ to the gentiles when we recognize the manifestation of Christ in the gentiles. There is something about the Christ in us recognizing the Christ in others that makes the flames and the stars and the lights of the great Epiphany burn brighter.
Christ, already present in the Wise Men, sought out the Christ and found him in an unexpected place: in a baby in the arms of a poor young woman. Deep calls to deep, the psalm says. From one human heart to another. Light calls to light. Love calls to love. The creative Word calls to creative Word. Christ calls to Christ, from one human heart to another. The call and the response from one child of God to another sets the fires ablaze. Deep calls to deep. Christ calls to Christ and the light shines brighter. God calls to God from one human being to another—and new stars shine in the heavens. And new epiphanies brighten
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