Epiphany calls us to open ourselves to the gift of God’s ongoing manifestation
So I’m driving in the car with the wife on the day before Thanksgiving, and I’m pulling down the Christmas music from some radio station. I know, way too early, but I like Christmas music! John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” cranks up. Here’s the first line of the song: “So this is Christmas/and what have you done…”
Immediately I think this - the season is not about what I have done, but what Godhas done. Christmas is about God giving humanity the gift of himself.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’tbe generous with our time, treasure and talent during the Christmas season (or for the remainder of the year, for that matter). Plunking coins in the Salvation Army’s red kettles is always a good idea; giving to St. Vincent de Paul is swell. Catholic Charities should always be on our radar. No question.
So there I am sitting in my car at a stop light, listening to Lennon and Ono belt out that tune, and all of a sudden that line from the song pricks my sensibilities.
How odd! That song was released in 1971. I was fifteen-years old that year. Ever since then I have heard that song played every Christmas, and it is only nowthat I pick up on that line (I was 63 on January 3)?
Here’s my point: time is required to grow in the faith. It’s not like - WHAM! - you are a Christian, and right then you see and do things differently. No, a little water needs to go under the bridge, and little moss needs to grow on that tree in order for us to see and hear the world through the lens of Christianity, to begin to act differently than we had before.
The Letter to the Hebrews is quite clear about this: “You need endurance to do the will of God.” (Heb 10:36). Jesus tells us that “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” (Lk 21:19) And St. Paul says that those whose faith is strong, well, they should be patient with the failings of the weak. (Rom 15:1)
So if it takes me 45 years to see something in a different light (or in this case, to hear something in a different way), so be it.
Now, after I arrived home – and still ruminating about that song – I got to thinking about the Magi. You know, the Wise Men. Okay, so the men arrive with their gifts and present them to Baby Jesus; they acknowledge him as Lord.
But do they understand the ramifications of Jesus being Lord? I don’t think they do. How would they have had time to do otherwise? True, they traveled hither and yon to get to Baby Jesus, so they obviously have not only high, but strong, opinions about him. But Jesus is a mere infant at their encounter. The Gospel, though staring the Magi right in the face, has not yet developed.
Still, the Matthean account hints that the Magi have been changed by their brief encounter with the Good News of the Lord. Writes Matthew: “They departed for their country by another way.” (Matt 2:12) The key words are “another way.”
Exactly. Our encounter with the Lord changesthe direction in which we travel. We were traveling one way, but our encounter with God makes us see anotherway to travel, and we take that route.
Now, back to the Lennon/Ono song. The line from that song, “And what have you done,” has absolutely nothing to do with the Lord’s Nativity. And though I have been traveling the route of Christ for many years, I never saw, or understood, what I was hearing.
In other words, I had an epiphany that day at the stop light. That epiphany was a gift from God, and the gift was God manifesting himself to me yet again. That’s what God does; what God likes to do. He delights in manifesting himself to us. Manifesting Godself to us is kind of like the job description of the Almighty.
So, as we celebrate the Epiphany and prepare to bring down the curtain on Christmas, let us open our eyes and ears, not to mention our hearts, and try to see and hear and sense where God is making himself known to us. Discovering his manifestation may take 45, but who’s counting?
By the way, I really do like that song. One of John’s best.