Seeing all of the Green around the chancel and the choir, you might be forgiven for thinking that we are back in liturgical “ordinary” time again… but not so fast. There are two green seasons on the church calendar. One of them is, indeed, ordinary time, which runs from Trinity Sunday (that’s the first Sunday after Pentecost) until the first Sunday of Advent. That’s a long season! It’s like half the year! But the other green season, the one we’re in right now, is the season of Epiphany. My apologies to members of the Altar Guild, past and present, for stating the obvious. Y’all live this stuff, year in and year out. Y’all are, in a very real sense, the primary keepers of this ecclesiastical lore. Thank you for that! But there may be others who see the colors change, and who note the thematic variations in the readings, prayers and hymnody over the course of the church year, but who aren’t one-hundred percent clear on why we do… what we do… the way we do it… from season to season. Kind of like I was before I went to priest school. And fear not, I’m not going to wear y’all out with a comprehensive lecture on the church calendar today. But you should know that changes in the trappings of worship: the colors, the liturgy and all those sorts of things are meant to be a cue for us that something’s different… something new is going on. And so, I will say a little something about this new season of Epiphany.
The Feast of the Epiphany always happens on January sixth, which is the twelfth day of Christmas, and the Season after the Epiphany lasts through “Shrove Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. The number of Sundays in Epiphany varies from year to year depending upon the date of Easter—this year there’ll be seven—and the liturgical color is green (except for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, which is white because that’s when we commemorate Jesus’ Baptism by John in the Jordan). I’m not sure if there is any particular significance to green being the color of the Season after the Epiphany… the significance may simply lie in the change of color itself.
We get the word Epiphany (Ἐπιφάνεια, Epiphaneia) from Koine or common Greek, and it means “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” Used in the context of our Christian faith, it means a vision or manifestation of God in Christ. One could reasonably argue that the entire period of Jesus’ active ministry was a manifestation of his divinity, but during the Season after the Epiphany we focus on some of the more extraordinary events that remind us that Jesus was truly Immanuel, God with us. On the Feast of Epiphany proper, we watched as wise men from the east, paid homage to the Christ child, after following his star to Bethlehem (Matt 2:1-12). On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we heard Jesus asking John to baptize him so that “all righteousness” would be fulfilled (Matt 3:15)… and then came the Spirit of God like a dove, and a voice from heaven claiming Jesus as Son, as Beloved. And now, on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, we find ourselves in Cana in Galilee… at a wedding. Presumably, a good time was being had by all… until the wine gave out. We don’t know precisely why Jesus’ mother sought “divine intervention” in this case, but the fact that she asked indicates that she knew Jesus was capable of solving the problem. But Jesus hesitated. It doesn’t appear that Jesus was troubled about the act of creating wine from water, per se. It seems, rather, that the issue was one of timing. Not yet. But he changed his mind and, as far as we know, the party went on. And the first public “sign” accomplished by Jesus during his earthly ministry was in the books.
But why the hesitation? Why the change of heart? I wonder sometimes if it was just a little bit of Jesus’ humanity showing in this instance. There are a few tenets of our faith that may be instructive here. When we say that we are “Trinitarian,” we mean that we believe in one God… in three “persons:” Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is key to our understanding of God being manifest in Christ. Immanuel. Our Trinitarian doctrine was shaped by several “ecumenical councils” during the fourth and early fifth centuries. Around the middle of the fifth century, the Council of Chalcedon established that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was at once fully divine and fully human. Don’t try doing the math on that… it doesn’t add up. It’s a mystery. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus Messiah is like us in every respect: he has been tested as we are… and is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. And yet, and yet… he is without sin (4:15). That’s because sin is anything that keeps us apart from God, and since Jesus is God, sin just can’t be in him. Humanity, yes… sin, no. I wonder if, at the moment that Jesus’ mother asked him to solve the problem of the wine, he might have had a vision of where it was all going to end… and that his human side recoiled from the prospect. But only for a second. Since there was no sin in Jesus, it didn’t take but an instant for God to be made manifest in Christ through that first miracle at Cana.
And that’s the difference between Jesus… and us. We don’t have it in us to be fully human and fully divine… not by a long shot. We’re all pretty much just human. I would argue, however, that we each have a spark of the divine in us… perhaps that’s what we call our souls—that last remnant of our having been created in the image of God—and that that little bit of divinity is always seeking to return to its source. We keep that ember alive and burning within us through our hope of salvation in Christ, and by saying, “yes” to God’s movement and purpose in our lives. We experience a myriad of such opportunities every day—a constant stream… a million second chances… to do what God would have us do. But we often hesitate. Sometimes for a long time. Sometimes for entire life times. Sometimes we’re just afraid to give ourselves over to the role that God has set before us… in helping to bring about the Kingdom.
In today’s epistle, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to take notice of the variety of gifts, services and activities with which we have each been blessed… in one way or another, and to one degree or another… and of the Spirit that animates them in our lives for the good of all. That’s Kingdom talk, my friends! Come one, come all! You have a part to play! What gifts has God given you? How are you being moved to exercise them? What’s stopping you? Does a task seem too difficult… or too inconsequential? Is it fear of failure… or of ridicule? Do you think you lack the skill? Do you think you can’t afford it? Do you doubt yourself? Do you doubt God?
Throughout the Christmas season, we celebrated the light of Christ that has come into the world: God with us. Immanuel. The Season after the Epiphany is an appropriate time for us to take note of the signs pointing to the manifestation of God in Christ, and to reflect on how God might also become manifest in us. God with us… God in us. What might that look like? And what will it cost us? God speaks to each of us in different ways, but we are all called to be bringers of the Kingdom. All of us! And the impulse to hesitate in answering that call is probably not from God. We have an Enemy, you know, who is ever seeking to thwart God’s plans… and to do us harm. When God came down to share in our earthly sojourn, he became fully human so that he could take on all of our fears and bodily frailties, the fruits of our fallen-ness, in order that he would know them… and so that he could heal them. It is through giving into God that we are healed. Let yourself be healed.
Did you ever wonder why we mix a very small amount of water with wine at Communion? A church historian would likely tell you that the quality of the wine was so poor during the Apostolic era that it needed to be watered down a bit to be drinkable. And I know theologians who would offer that the water in the wine “symbolizes the water that came from Jesus’ side when he was pierced by a spear, as he hung on the cross in John’s Gospel. Maybe… but I prefer the Eucharistic theology of a six-year-old young man who, when asked what he thought about it all said simply, “Well, if the wine is Jesus and the water is us, then it’s better to have more of Jesus in the cup.” Hear, hear! This reminds me of the Message Bible translation of Matthew 5:3… “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NRSV). The Message Bible says it a little differently: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” And that’s good food for thought as we experience this new Season after Epiphany together.
God with us. God inus. How would God be made manifest in you?