COVER STORY – Epiphany
How often in our world of self-centered people don’t we hear promises of big things, soon to come. Coming soon, we are told, is the newest, greatest breakthrough in automotive excellence. Coming soon is the ground-breaking, sure-fire, Oscar-winning movie.
But in the world of man, it sometimes happens that a big, public unveiling is merely a moment of frustration and shame. The big movie is a flop. The automotive breakthrough proves a disappointment. Do you remember, some years ago, when the biggest name in electronic devices publicly demonstrated his latest invention—and was embarrassed by a series of glitches? More recently a highly touted inventor was demonstrating breakthrough technology in bullet proof auto glass—and a hand-thrown steel ball cracked and dented the windshield.
We live in a world where hype is normal but is viewed skeptically by careful people. The bigger the noise, the greater the skepticism. We prize the times when good news comes in confident but understated tones. That we can trust.
What about in God’s world?
God certainly is capable of “hyping” His wondrous works, if He chose to do so. What wonders in earth and air could accompany His every promise! What fearsome signs in sky and sea could be made to precede His every judgment! What visitations of angels announcing His coming actions! But He seldom does this. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were without any warning, except to reluctant Lot. His greatest judgment upon mankind, the universal flood of Noah’s time, was announced to Noah, and that was all. Noah’s preaching of righteousness was all the prelude God gave. True, the Lord did advertise His power and might in announcing the Ten Plagues, but this is something of an exception to His usual manner of working.
But what about the biggest unveiling of all, the epiphany of the very Son of God in mortal flesh? The very word epiphany promises something grand, “a visible manifestation of a hidden divinity.” One eastern king even added Epiphanes to his name to show how great and glorious he was. (His subjects took to calling him Epimanes instead, suggesting a mental imbalance.) Surely the appearance of the Son of God from heaven would be accompanied by the greatest fanfare the world has ever experienced. But, no, it was not. Surely His entrance into human society would be the grandest of all grand entries. But, no, not to the natural eye.
Instead, during the season of Epiphany we see Jesus, “very God of very God,” so fully human that He is recognized as nothing more than a man by most people. We see a miracle worker Who often asked that His deeds not be announced. We are confronted with a man Who showed all the physical weaknesses of humanity, Who hungered and tired and grieved and died, but Who also made the most stupendous claims: I am the only way to the Father, I am one with the Father, all judgment is given to Me, I lay down My life and take it up again, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me, your sins are forgiven.
The still, small voice.
And all of this is unveiled to the world “in a still, small voice,” through “the foolishness of preaching,” and that by people aptly compared to “clay pots.” What is God thinking? Any ad agency could do a much better job of getting the word out!
But, of course, it could not. For Epiphany, like Christmas, was never meant to impress the world, but only to feed the simple souls who make up the Church. Those simple souls see Christ’s unveiling perfectly well, as He walks meekly and quietly through the pages of Scripture. They are satisfied with the quiet, confident declaration, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Norman Greve is pastor of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iron River, Michigan.