by Teresa Donati
We find ourselves in the week that celebrates The Epiphany, which the Church calls the revelation of the Incarnation. It is described in poetic glory in John’s Gospel (1:14): ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.’
He came to live with us, so that every life took on new meaning. His life gave the lie to all false measures of human worth, for he came as a baby, helpless and poor, and the ‘star,’ the beckoning finger of God, brought kings to worship him.
‘Epiphany.’ The beauty of the word hides its power, for it means revelation, yes, what was revealed to the Magi and the world. But the word also means a flash of discovery, a sudden enlightenment, a truth we had not realized until that moment. ‘I had an epiphany,’ people say, when a striking vision changes the direction of their lives.
The world had an Epiphany.
We forget ancient wisdom, insights that prevailed throughout the ages, but which we dismiss as impossible before the ‘Age of Science.’ We forget the realization of what the Epiphany meant to centuries of faithful people, who understood the day as a time to unmask the false pride of wealth and rank.
Shakespeare wrote a comedy to celebrate the day. Epiphany is also known also as ‘Twelfth Night,’ and it became the title of one of his immortal plays. In his time, that day in England was a day when rank and status were turned topsy-turvy, where servants could speak disrespectfully to their masters, where the low-born and poor of the world realized Mary’s promise: ‘He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.’ (Luke 1:52).
‘Twelfth Night’ is a play full of fun and confusion, a parody of the pretensions of the rich and ‘noble.’ Its characters show a reversal of servant-master roles. There are violations of the strict rules of deference toward lords and ladies. There is love directed and misdirected, though it all comes right in the end.
The play and its playfulness reflect the old wisdom about what the day truly signifies: the renewal of the message given from the time of Abraham, that God values the heart, and not the pretensions of riches or intellect. The Epiphany was understood to celebrate reverence for the sanctity embodied in an obscure baby, not an earthly monarch, but a heavenly one.
It was heaven’s time for angels to sing to shepherds, whose humble work tending sheep was often held in scorn in the ancient world. And it all took place with no Roman ruler or puppet king in Israel, having any part of it.
Now, in that faith he taught, we follow the man that the child became. We know that His time with us resulted in a world renewed by hope, our souls exalted by a faith that every person, even the outcaste, could claim God’s love.
His teachings and his healing would embrace the common people of the world and ennoble them. He would lead them to embrace lives lived with love, and those lives would be the light of the world.
Thus, Epiphany — wherein each person’s soul could mirror the mysterious star that shone over the birthplace of an infant in a stable — a baby come to change the hearts and minds of all the generations yet to come. May it be so for all of us.