A Heretic Mulls Over Epiphany

Today is The Epiphany, when Christians celebrate as the day when Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles as the Son of God. But what of us who don’t hold this belief–who believe instead that Jesus was a teacher, a prophet, a healer, but not uniquely marked as the Son of God? What does Epiphany mean for us?

Are we still waiting for revelation? Some would say yes; that we don’t have eyes to see. Until we see that Jesus is the one and only Son of God, we are still unfinished. These are the folks who often try to ‘save’ us.

Many Christians, thankfully, are more generous of spirit than that. They embrace a God of love who is not all about damning people who don’t agree on specific creeds or beliefs.

I think of the United Church of Christ’s slogan, “God is still speaking,” with the big comma next to it. This contrasts with that bumper sticker theology: “God wrote it. I read it. That settles it.” Epiphanies are still happening, says that comma. Revelation is not sealed.

Popularly, the word epiphany, with a small ‘e’, means “a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something. a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.” This morning, I’m wondering if letting go of the one Big Capital E Epiphany as the one and only Truth might help to allow more of these small ‘e’, daily epiphanies, truths. It seems to me that a belief that you already have The Truth kind of stops you from looking for it any more! Others will disagree with me, I’m sure.

I believe that Jesus was an exceptional, exemplary role model for the rest of us. A great teacher, healer, minister, human being. But he was a human. (I count myself lucky to be born in a century where I won’t be burned at the stake for saying that!)

In Unitarian Universalist congregations, we frequently read these words from Sophia Lyon Fahs on Christmas Eve: “No angels herald their beginnings/ No prophets predict their future courses/ No wisemen see a star to show where to find the babe that will save humankind/ Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.”

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has written, “It is probable that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”

Each night a child is born is a holy night; one more person who may be part of the community which helps the earth to survive has just joined us! These, to me, are the most hope-filled saving words I know. They are also a sharp jab, when I think of the way that many of these holy people are being treated.

My child—my beloved, brilliant, beautiful, wise, child—was adopted from a remote village in China. Had she not come to the United States by way of adoption, it is highly likely that the only way I would know of her very existence, even theoretically, would be through handling something that she, and millions like her, manufactured ‘for me’ in some windowless factory. Her back sore and her eyes blurry, she might be making my iPhone, or iPad, or a piece of clothing or some weird plastic item. This is, after all, how I know, the only way I am related to, thousands and thousands of children and adults in poor parts of the world. Through the goods which they make for people like me.

Yet, because I know my child personally, I know that she is brilliant, and beautiful, and funny, and opinionated, and has dreams of how her own life and the world should be. Just as I would know each of those children in the windowless room to be, given the chance to know them. If I don’t have eyes to see those other kids, does it mean that they cease to be any less holy? Or is it my own holiness that is diminished, by benefiting from their mistreatment?

So happy Epiphany, or Happy epiphanies, or may your life bring you ever more comprehension and sharpening of focus. Wherever we are, whatever we believe, may we all become part of a community committed to the survival of the earth. Whether we agree or disagree about theology, we are all in this together!

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