Epiphanies

“Epiphany.  3  a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b : a revealing scene or moment”

via Epiphany – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

And the essential nature and meaning, the grasp of reality through something simple and striking, the illuminating discovery, realization, and disclosure is Jesus:  God in the flesh for you.

And thus the time of Epiphany in the church year, which begins today, marking when the Wise Men had their epiphany, and continues to celebrate the other epiphanies of Jesus described in the Bible (when His identity was revealed at His baptism, His first miracle, and on and on through His transfiguration).

May you have your own epiphanies of Jesus in this season–in conversion, in hearing a sermon, in receiving the Lord’s Supper–and may your other kinds of epiphanies be taken up in Him.

UPDATE:   Kenneth in the comments asks counsel for how to battle the spiritual blues.  I gave him some advice, but what do I know?  What could you say to encourage him?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • kenneth

    The epiphany season appears to have started rather drably for me. The realization of the Savior at work in me and the world needs many repetitions for the transformation promised to “appear’ in meaningful ways.

    I happened on a book about systems theory updated to include theology and sience interaction. I think it goes like this; we have the facts in Scripture and dogmatically we have tried to sort out contradictions and inconsistencies by practicing some form of systematic theology to get a comprehensive grasp of the complexities of living the faith through integrative processing of disperate reality.

    Though we experience dullness in our relationship with Jesus we require prayer and meditation on the objective scriptural promises. It is suggested that an element of persistence in entering faiths benefits (well being) also needs an imaginitive wrestling with texts awaiting some illumination. Crying with the Psalms works if one puts everything into it and trusts that God will bring the desired state, such as peace from anxiety, meningfulness opposing the dread of meaninglessness that looms heavily after celebrations. Imagining the Holy Spirit active somehow in our thanksgiving on reflection of our rescue or even our redemption’s completion should help. All those airy harps and grand dances should be playing an anticipatory tune up.

    Any suggestions on how to beat the holiday blues would be appreciated. Any tunes come to mind?

  • kenneth

    The epiphany season appears to have started rather drably for me. The realization of the Savior at work in me and the world needs many repetitions for the transformation promised to “appear’ in meaningful ways.

    I happened on a book about systems theory updated to include theology and sience interaction. I think it goes like this; we have the facts in Scripture and dogmatically we have tried to sort out contradictions and inconsistencies by practicing some form of systematic theology to get a comprehensive grasp of the complexities of living the faith through integrative processing of disperate reality.

    Though we experience dullness in our relationship with Jesus we require prayer and meditation on the objective scriptural promises. It is suggested that an element of persistence in entering faiths benefits (well being) also needs an imaginitive wrestling with texts awaiting some illumination. Crying with the Psalms works if one puts everything into it and trusts that God will bring the desired state, such as peace from anxiety, meningfulness opposing the dread of meaninglessness that looms heavily after celebrations. Imagining the Holy Spirit active somehow in our thanksgiving on reflection of our rescue or even our redemption’s completion should help. All those airy harps and grand dances should be playing an anticipatory tune up.

    Any suggestions on how to beat the holiday blues would be appreciated. Any tunes come to mind?

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  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, Kenneth, I think we tend to look inward–wanting the experience–whereas the message of Epiphany is that we need to look outside ourselves, whereupon, ironically, that can make the inner experience come on. One thing that helps is love of neighbor, since Christ is hidden in our neighbors.

    And remember Christ’s action, what He has done for you and continues to do for you. Approaching spiritual matters with the mindset that, as you say, “if one puts everything into it” shifts the attention to your works, which is going to be the opposite of receiving Christ’s grace.

    So I’d say, stop trying so hard. Do normal things–go to church, read the Bible, the daily routines, with perhaps more attention to the people God has put into your life. “Be still and know that I am God.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, Kenneth, I think we tend to look inward–wanting the experience–whereas the message of Epiphany is that we need to look outside ourselves, whereupon, ironically, that can make the inner experience come on. One thing that helps is love of neighbor, since Christ is hidden in our neighbors.

    And remember Christ’s action, what He has done for you and continues to do for you. Approaching spiritual matters with the mindset that, as you say, “if one puts everything into it” shifts the attention to your works, which is going to be the opposite of receiving Christ’s grace.

    So I’d say, stop trying so hard. Do normal things–go to church, read the Bible, the daily routines, with perhaps more attention to the people God has put into your life. “Be still and know that I am God.”

  • George A. Marquart

    Dear Kenneth: The question you raise is an important one for all believers. As much as all of us would like to give you a concise answer which will turn everything around for you, there ain’t no such thing. My own “brief” effort has to be divided into two submissions to fit on this blog, and there is really a great deal more I would like to write.

    From my years of battling fatigue caused by severe sleep apnea, and the accompanying depression, I have learned a little about the subject. The most important lesson is that there can be any number of causes for depression: physiological, psychological, hormonal, drug induced (I mean from long time use of prescription medicine), vitamin deficiency, Seasonal Affective Disorder (particularly if you live in northern latitudes), and a number of others. It is not likely that any amount of “Spiritual Exercise” will be able to overcome these. Professionals in the fields of medicine and psychology are the best sources of relief.

    Similarly, we should be aware of the fact that we are only created equal in the sight of the Law. In other respects, some people are more sentimental, some less, some by nature more optimistic than others, some extroverts, some introverts, some highly intelligent and some less so, but all are loved by our Savior, regardless of what, in human judgment, may be some lack of “inherent goodness”.

    But if yours is really a spiritual lethargy, then I have a number of suggestions. You write, “The realization of the Savior at work in me and the world needs many repetitions for the transformation promised to “appear’ in meaningful ways.” Because the Gospel is not always (actually hardly ever) preached clearly even among Lutherans (I do not know if you are one), our expectations often exceed reality. It is not so much “the Savior at work in me”, but the Holy Spirit, Who comes to dwell in every child of God when that child is Baptized, Who is at work in us. That is why the blessed Dr. Martin Luther, when faced with spiritual testing (Anfechtung, oh that untranslatable word) would say, “I am baptized!” Here is the essence of the Gospel: our status as children of God and members of the Kingdom of God is not determined by our feelings, the perceived depth of our spirituality, or even by how much we sin or how many good works we perform, but by the objective acts of God and the promises that accompany them. Most importantly it is not dependent on whether the transformation that has taken place is “meaningful” in our own estimation.

    You write, “Though we experience dullness in our relationship with Jesus we require prayer and meditation on the objective scriptural promises.” This “relationship with Jesus” has become the mantra of many preachers. Our Lord said, “Where two or three are gathered,” in order to indicate that it is not a matter of having a “personal relationship” with Him, but in finding meaning in our membership in God’s Kingdom, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all work for our ultimate good. He clearly said, Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” The good news is about the Kingdom, not about any kind of personal relationship with Him. The ancients knew about this when they composed that most ancient of hymns, The Te Deum:

    “The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee;
    The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
    Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
    Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
    Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
    Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
    When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man :
    thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
    When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
    thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.”

    The “holy Church” in the Te Deum is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, a synonym for “the Kingdom of God.”
    Continued in Part II

  • George A. Marquart

    Dear Kenneth: The question you raise is an important one for all believers. As much as all of us would like to give you a concise answer which will turn everything around for you, there ain’t no such thing. My own “brief” effort has to be divided into two submissions to fit on this blog, and there is really a great deal more I would like to write.

    From my years of battling fatigue caused by severe sleep apnea, and the accompanying depression, I have learned a little about the subject. The most important lesson is that there can be any number of causes for depression: physiological, psychological, hormonal, drug induced (I mean from long time use of prescription medicine), vitamin deficiency, Seasonal Affective Disorder (particularly if you live in northern latitudes), and a number of others. It is not likely that any amount of “Spiritual Exercise” will be able to overcome these. Professionals in the fields of medicine and psychology are the best sources of relief.

    Similarly, we should be aware of the fact that we are only created equal in the sight of the Law. In other respects, some people are more sentimental, some less, some by nature more optimistic than others, some extroverts, some introverts, some highly intelligent and some less so, but all are loved by our Savior, regardless of what, in human judgment, may be some lack of “inherent goodness”.

    But if yours is really a spiritual lethargy, then I have a number of suggestions. You write, “The realization of the Savior at work in me and the world needs many repetitions for the transformation promised to “appear’ in meaningful ways.” Because the Gospel is not always (actually hardly ever) preached clearly even among Lutherans (I do not know if you are one), our expectations often exceed reality. It is not so much “the Savior at work in me”, but the Holy Spirit, Who comes to dwell in every child of God when that child is Baptized, Who is at work in us. That is why the blessed Dr. Martin Luther, when faced with spiritual testing (Anfechtung, oh that untranslatable word) would say, “I am baptized!” Here is the essence of the Gospel: our status as children of God and members of the Kingdom of God is not determined by our feelings, the perceived depth of our spirituality, or even by how much we sin or how many good works we perform, but by the objective acts of God and the promises that accompany them. Most importantly it is not dependent on whether the transformation that has taken place is “meaningful” in our own estimation.

    You write, “Though we experience dullness in our relationship with Jesus we require prayer and meditation on the objective scriptural promises.” This “relationship with Jesus” has become the mantra of many preachers. Our Lord said, “Where two or three are gathered,” in order to indicate that it is not a matter of having a “personal relationship” with Him, but in finding meaning in our membership in God’s Kingdom, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all work for our ultimate good. He clearly said, Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” The good news is about the Kingdom, not about any kind of personal relationship with Him. The ancients knew about this when they composed that most ancient of hymns, The Te Deum:

    “The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee;
    The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
    Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
    Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
    Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
    Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
    When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man :
    thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
    When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
    thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.”

    The “holy Church” in the Te Deum is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, a synonym for “the Kingdom of God.”
    Continued in Part II

  • George A. Marquart

    Part II
    There is a hymn that comes to me in times of great joy and in times of deep sorrow:

    1. The Lord hath helped me hitherto
    By His surpassing favor;
    His mercies every morn were new,
    His kindness did not waver.
    God hitherto hath been my Guide,
    Hath pleasures hitherto supplied,
    And hitherto hath helped me.

    2. I praise and thank Thee, Lord, my God,
    For Thine abundant blessing
    Which heretofore Thou hast bestowed
    And I am still possessing.
    Inscribe this on my memory:
    The Lord hath done great things for me
    And graciously hath helped me.

    3. Help me henceforth, O God of grace,
    Help me on each occasion,
    Help me in each and every place,
    Help me through Jesus’ Passion;
    Help me in life and death, O God,
    Help me through Jesus’ dying blood;
    Help me as Thou hast helped me!
    TLH 33

    Just one final note about peace: St. Paul says, Romans 5:1, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” So, not to worry about your own perception of yourself, because, Romans 8: 33 “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Please forgive me if I have made any unwarranted or offensive assumptions.

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • George A. Marquart

    Part II
    There is a hymn that comes to me in times of great joy and in times of deep sorrow:

    1. The Lord hath helped me hitherto
    By His surpassing favor;
    His mercies every morn were new,
    His kindness did not waver.
    God hitherto hath been my Guide,
    Hath pleasures hitherto supplied,
    And hitherto hath helped me.

    2. I praise and thank Thee, Lord, my God,
    For Thine abundant blessing
    Which heretofore Thou hast bestowed
    And I am still possessing.
    Inscribe this on my memory:
    The Lord hath done great things for me
    And graciously hath helped me.

    3. Help me henceforth, O God of grace,
    Help me on each occasion,
    Help me in each and every place,
    Help me through Jesus’ Passion;
    Help me in life and death, O God,
    Help me through Jesus’ dying blood;
    Help me as Thou hast helped me!
    TLH 33

    Just one final note about peace: St. Paul says, Romans 5:1, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” So, not to worry about your own perception of yourself, because, Romans 8: 33 “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Please forgive me if I have made any unwarranted or offensive assumptions.

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • helen

    You can take the Dane out of Minnesota, but you can’t take Minnesota out of the Dane! (At the very least, it’s hard work.)
    A friend of mine has persuaded me that the days really do get a little longer after December 21st!
    After years of firmly believing that February was the longest month of the year, that was no mean feat!

    [Note: In Minnesota you welcome snow if it comes for Christmas, but in January, February, March and sometimes into April, you "deal with it"! Which is not too bad if you can get some sun, but many days, esp. in February, you can't. Once the Christmas lights and the tree are taken down, (you can stretch them to mid January, but...) the world seems to get very dull. ]
    At church, of course, the tree and poinsettias go out at Epiphany. So, if your mind was too much tied up with Chrismons, lights and holiday trimmings, you come down to ‘back to work’ normal with a dull thud.

    Relax, you didn’t put God away with the Nativity scene! Jesus hasn’t been in a manger for 2000 years. [Do we celebrate anyone else's birthday by putting them, or wishing them, back in the cradle!?] Maybe that’s our first problem!?

    Dr. Veith has some very good advice.

    Beyond that, if it’s partly a matter of ‘a brighter atmosphere’ I used to dispel the darkness of February by bringing a handful of daffodils to my classroom. They were a wonder to my students, (who usually didn’t see fresh flowers between fall and spring; ‘flowers in every grocery’ didn’t happen then) and a bit of sunshine in the room, whatever was outside. [I needed them even more later in the confines of a flat on city streets, both unfamiliar!] And now I bring flowers to the office occasionally, where my colleagues react much like the children did, long ago…. :)

  • helen

    You can take the Dane out of Minnesota, but you can’t take Minnesota out of the Dane! (At the very least, it’s hard work.)
    A friend of mine has persuaded me that the days really do get a little longer after December 21st!
    After years of firmly believing that February was the longest month of the year, that was no mean feat!

    [Note: In Minnesota you welcome snow if it comes for Christmas, but in January, February, March and sometimes into April, you "deal with it"! Which is not too bad if you can get some sun, but many days, esp. in February, you can't. Once the Christmas lights and the tree are taken down, (you can stretch them to mid January, but...) the world seems to get very dull. ]
    At church, of course, the tree and poinsettias go out at Epiphany. So, if your mind was too much tied up with Chrismons, lights and holiday trimmings, you come down to ‘back to work’ normal with a dull thud.

    Relax, you didn’t put God away with the Nativity scene! Jesus hasn’t been in a manger for 2000 years. [Do we celebrate anyone else's birthday by putting them, or wishing them, back in the cradle!?] Maybe that’s our first problem!?

    Dr. Veith has some very good advice.

    Beyond that, if it’s partly a matter of ‘a brighter atmosphere’ I used to dispel the darkness of February by bringing a handful of daffodils to my classroom. They were a wonder to my students, (who usually didn’t see fresh flowers between fall and spring; ‘flowers in every grocery’ didn’t happen then) and a bit of sunshine in the room, whatever was outside. [I needed them even more later in the confines of a flat on city streets, both unfamiliar!] And now I bring flowers to the office occasionally, where my colleagues react much like the children did, long ago…. :)

  • helen

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=10062#comment-267118

    You might read Pr. David Mueller over on BJS. He partly discusses the oddity of closing the megachurches on Sunday “because it was Christmas day”! And partly the opening of churches, even if only a few recognize the Christ-Mass.

    He winds up with Kipling, alway a favorite of mine, and this one especially appropriate for Christmas 2011.

    P.S. I very much enjoyed the “Mennonite Preacher” linked below, and the other is Matt Harrison, if you haven’t already listened to him.

  • helen

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=10062#comment-267118

    You might read Pr. David Mueller over on BJS. He partly discusses the oddity of closing the megachurches on Sunday “because it was Christmas day”! And partly the opening of churches, even if only a few recognize the Christ-Mass.

    He winds up with Kipling, alway a favorite of mine, and this one especially appropriate for Christmas 2011.

    P.S. I very much enjoyed the “Mennonite Preacher” linked below, and the other is Matt Harrison, if you haven’t already listened to him.

  • helen

    Some of you may think I’m way off topic, emphasizing surroundings. (You live, maybe, where the sun shines.)
    “Seasonal affective disorder” [Scandinavian allergy to darkness] is real, but if no one ever told you about it, you won’t recognize that your “down” feelings are partly a response to less sunlight! Get out at noon on every sunny day, if only for a little while. If you can bare a little skin you’ll raise your Vit D levels, which won’t hurt either.

  • helen

    Some of you may think I’m way off topic, emphasizing surroundings. (You live, maybe, where the sun shines.)
    “Seasonal affective disorder” [Scandinavian allergy to darkness] is real, but if no one ever told you about it, you won’t recognize that your “down” feelings are partly a response to less sunlight! Get out at noon on every sunny day, if only for a little while. If you can bare a little skin you’ll raise your Vit D levels, which won’t hurt either.

  • Booklover

    Find a small group, preferrably children, and sing those two call and response spirituals about heaven, with them.

    “Let Me Fly” and “Sit Down, Sister:”

    Oh won’t you sit down?
    Lawd, I can’t sit down!
    Oh won’t you sit down?
    Lawd, I can’t sit down!
    Oh won’t you sit down?
    Lawd, I can’t sit down!
    Cause I just got to heaven gonna look around!

    If you’re not into singing yourself (but everyone should try), look up Moses Hogan on YouTube and listen to his choir sing his rousing spirituals.

    If you are in a more meditative mood, search “There is a Hope” by Stuart Townend.

    Then take a walk in the sun with someone who is worse off than you are. If it’s just too cold, walk the mall. Do not take your wallet.

    Then, start planning your summer trip, if there are funds. If not, start planning your summer wardrobe or garden.

    Happy wintering.

  • Booklover

    Find a small group, preferrably children, and sing those two call and response spirituals about heaven, with them.

    “Let Me Fly” and “Sit Down, Sister:”

    Oh won’t you sit down?
    Lawd, I can’t sit down!
    Oh won’t you sit down?
    Lawd, I can’t sit down!
    Oh won’t you sit down?
    Lawd, I can’t sit down!
    Cause I just got to heaven gonna look around!

    If you’re not into singing yourself (but everyone should try), look up Moses Hogan on YouTube and listen to his choir sing his rousing spirituals.

    If you are in a more meditative mood, search “There is a Hope” by Stuart Townend.

    Then take a walk in the sun with someone who is worse off than you are. If it’s just too cold, walk the mall. Do not take your wallet.

    Then, start planning your summer trip, if there are funds. If not, start planning your summer wardrobe or garden.

    Happy wintering.

  • kenneth

    Thanks everyone for caring. Dr Vieth is right about focusing off self. And thank you George for your time spent on focusing on what God has done for us, Jesus Christ. Keep it simple.

  • kenneth

    Thanks everyone for caring. Dr Vieth is right about focusing off self. And thank you George for your time spent on focusing on what God has done for us, Jesus Christ. Keep it simple.

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