Epiphany of the Lord

Around this time each year I am scheduled for my annual eye exam. I’m not expecting any big changes from last year’s prescription. The big change has happened since I arrived in Waynesboro when my eye doctor suggested I consider getting bifocals. But that can’t be, I said. I’m not … which was when it dawned on me in all likelihood I was in fact whatever it was I thought I was not just a moment earlier. So I paused to take it in. I asked if I had other options. I don’t recall the conversation that followed, but I guess it was perfectly fine to just stay the course since the only significant change to date is that I now wear reading glasses. Still that doesn’t mean my choice was the best of all my options. It was just what I was then willing to live with.

With each new year we often feel the inspiration to start fresh, try new things, broaden our horizons, explore new possibilities, become a better person. We make plans to exercise, lose weight, live simpler, read more, reunite with family and friends at occasions other than funerals, travel to exotic places, clean out the attic, the garage, the spare bedroom, create amazing art, compose a glorious symphony, launch a new career in astrophysics. Then it all fell to pieces because, well, 2020. Maybe last year you felt a similar spark of inspiration and after just a week into the new year concluded it was gas or some half-baked fantasy that would never get off the ground or temporary insanity or COVID brain. That by the way is now an acceptable excuse for not attaining or even attempting greatness. So why didn’t you write that next great American novel? 2020. Why didn’t you run the New York City or Boston Marathon? 2020. Why didn’t you win an Oscar, a Tony, or a Grammy? 2020. Why haven’t we moved to our new church yet? 2020. Then you start humming the theme from Gilligan’s Island, pretending to take a call as you walk away. Just don’t do it too often. People will get suspicious.

But we’re better equipped now. We know what we can and cannot handle. We’ve endured a year of unparalleled stress. We are acquainted with the rigors of quarantine and competitive handwashing and sanitizing. We have advanced field experience in urban pandemic survival and navigating multiple digital technologies on a substandard 4G network. We’re better prepared for a new year of starting fresh, and trying new things, and broadening our horizons, and exploring new possibilities, and becoming better people. Aren’t we? Now I can’t speak for everyone, so don’t just all jump on the bandwagon and presume we’re all equally qualified for this challenge. I am not free to divulge actual information, but I have suspicions some of us just sat on the couch eating Cheetos and watching Netflix for nine months.

Fortunately the journey of Christian discipleship allows each of us to advance at our own pace. The Holy Spirit reveals to us a passing glimpse of the fullness of God’s life through the lessons of scripture. We pause to reflect on our experience thus far, seriously consider what God is offering, and willingly embrace the challenge to grow toward the fullness of God’s design for us. Some will respond eagerly and joyfully; some not so joyfully, with hesitation, even grudgingly; some remaining unimpressed.

But it’s just like an eye exam. You know your spiritual vision is blurry. You’re selfish, vain, arrogant, unrepentant. Maybe you’ve been scarred by some childhood trauma. Maybe you’ve gotten bitter from all the sadness and hurt you’ve known. Maybe you’ve drifted away from God because you haven’t been in church in a while. Or was it the sexual abuse scandal? Or the culture wars? Or 2020? Whatever it is, your practice of the faith is a little rusty and picking up on spiritual matters is not your forte. You need spiritual glasses or contact lenses. Hopefully you don’t need radical surgery. But God wants you to have better spiritual vision. And you can have better spiritual vision, but only to the level of clarity and accountability you are willing to live with.

On this feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate how God revealed to the nations his plan for the salvation of the human family. The magi represent the nations in all their diversity and majesty. Now God could have sent the baby Jesus on a world tour like some mega-rock star for maximum effect. He could have mingled with the rich and famous, gathered notable endorsements, made the screaming crowds beg for more. But instead God went the way of the mustard seed discreet, humble, unassuming. This epiphany, this revelation to the magi was just a foretaste of what was to come, even past his own lifetime. And as it happened with that man many years later whose sight he restored, it came gradually. First he saw what looked vaguely like walking trees; and not too long after, clear and true vision. So it might take longer for some than for others. Ultimately God desires clear and true spiritual vision for us. We need to ask ourselves, what level of clarity and accountability are we willing to live with?

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul shares with his fellow Christians a mystery God revealed to him, not to people in other generations, but to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that in God’s grand design, “the Gentiles—that is, all the nations not associated with Israel or her covenantal heritage—the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” It isn’t earth-shattering news today since few of us could even trace a blood connection to Abraham. But we are the outsiders, the strangers and aliens considered unfit to worship in the temple built by Solomon. We are the outcasts who do not know what we worship because salvation comes from the Jews. We are the foreigners who should be treated kindly but could never be part of the family. And now St. Paul tells us we have been sadly misinformed, because you know what? We are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Look around you. God has bestowed upon us the dignity of his daughters and sons. We are coheirs with the children of Abraham. We are members of the same body, copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

That is the complete and unvarnished vision God desires to share with us. We are destined from the beginning for inclusion among the family of God’s children, to receive the fullness of dignity as heirs to his kingdom. God invites us beyond whatever walls we build or ditches we dig to frustrate his plan. Why do we still refuse to open our eyes? We create policies and processes for order and consistency. But if we still fail to see as God sees, how is any of this better? Some of us will take longer getting there. It’s not the end of the world. But whether we need glasses or contact lenses or radical surgery is on us. The star in the night leads the way. It’s still up to us to see it and go.

Rolo B Castillo © 2021