We close the Christmas season and move into Ordinary Time with a connected set of feasts. In the ancient Church, the Epiphany commemorated three things: 1) The visit of the Magi, 2) the Baptism of the Lord and 3) the Wedding Feast at Cana.
Why all three? Because the ancient Greek word epiphany meant “manifestation,” and these events were three key moments in which Christ’s identity was publicly manifested: His first revelation to the Gentiles, His public revelation as beloved Son of the Father, and the first public sign He performed.
If you think in terms of what’s called “the divine pedagogy” — God’s way of teaching — it makes perfect sense. A good teacher doesn’t deliver an important lesson only one time and in only one way. An important lesson is delivered more than once, and in more than one way.
God, the master teacher, does the same with us, not only in salvation history but also in our own lives. The beauty of nature and the power of human relationships point us to God. Scripture and the sacraments teach us about God. Prayer draws us to God. Just as multiple epiphanies close the Christmas season so there are many epiphanies in our lives, God wants to give us multiple opportunities to learn about Him and draw close to Him.
But that doesn’t mean “it’s all good,” as people are fond of saying. It is, most decisively, not all good! There’s an enemy at work in the world, too. That’s why the apostle John warns us: “Do not trust every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God.”
Yes, there’s a spirit of truth in the world, helping us to appreciate all the ways God manifests Himself to us. There’s a spirit of deceit in the world, too, trying to twist every one of those epiphanies to a destructive end.
God put the natural goodness of food into the world, to help us long for the heavenly banquet; the enemy tries to twist that goodness for self-serving gluttony (sometimes the gluttony of quantity, sometimes the gluttony of quality). God put the natural goodness of human abilities into the world, that we might humbly acknowledge our gifts and use them to serve him and one another; the enemy tries to twist that goodness toward self-elevating and self-serving pride. God put the natural goodness of sexuality into the world, to teach us that we are made for communion; the enemy tries to twist that goodness for the self-satisfaction of lust.
Because God is the master teacher, both history and our experience are full of epiphanies of God. Because the enemy is a master tempter, every one of God’s gifts can be turned toward human destruction. Perhaps this coming year could be dedicated to deepening our power of discernment: to know and embrace all God’s epiphanies more deeply, to know and reject all the enemy’s temptations more quickly!
God bless you in this New Year.