The word “epiphany” simply means “manifestation.” Of course, we usually associate the word with God being made manifest in our midst. But we can have epiphany experiences in our daily lives as well. For example, we may be working on a chemistry problem and nothing seems to work until we have an epiphany or insight that clarifies the matter. Or we may be going about our daily business when suddenly we have an insight (or as some like to say an ah-ha moment) where everything becomes clear.
A few weeks ago, I saw the musical, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” starring Harry Connick, Jr. In the story, a recently-widowed psychiatrist treats a patient who is channeling the life of a dead big band era singer. The psychiatrist falls in love with this dead singer who is being “reanimated” so to speak through the patient who is undergoing hypnosis. While the story is far-fetched, the underlying premise is not: the reason the psychiatrist is unable to move forward with his life is that he is still in love with his deceased wife and confuses the reanimated big band singer with real love. In other words, he is afraid to fall in love with living flesh and blood human beings. He uses his research and practice to distance himself from reality.
How often do we do that? Instead of living reality, instead of moving forward with life, we hold onto the past or we try to live in a fantasy world. Sometimes we become tempted to live a life that is not our own. We try to be someone we’re not. On some levels, we do this because we want to be accepted. Teenagers do that when they join gangs or cliques. In the process of trying to be someone else, we make mistakes and hurt others. Our minds become clouded with delusions of grandeur or fame or wealth. It is one thing to dream; it is an entirely different thing when our dreams turn into fantasies and we begin to lose sight of reality.
That is why God chose to become human. He chose to manifest himself to the world in order to help human beings to see the difference between reality and fantasy. The people of Jesus’ day (much like our own) were caught up in the desire for power, wealth and recognition. Even the religious leaders were hoping for a change in the regime. Yet they lost sight of this important fact: the Messiah that was to come would not be a military leader but would be a shepherd who would lead people toward God. The Messiah would be God’s messenger of peace and justice.
In other words, God broke through the cloudiness of human existence to proclaim a new clear day in which dreams can become reality. Consider these words from Isaiah:
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!
Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.
Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.
When the psychiatrist realizes that he has not been living in reality, he has an epiphany moment. He recognizes that he’s been chasing after the wrong thing and then he pursues real love. At the end of the musical, he sings the title song. Compare these words of Alan Jay Lerner with the text from Isaiah, especially the part in bold:
On a clear day,
rise and look around you,
and you’ll see who you are.
On a clear day,
how it will astound you
That the glow of your BEING outshines every star.
You’LL FEEL PART OF every mountain,
sea and shore,
You CAN HEAR from far and hear a WORLD you’ve never HEARD before.
On a clear day,
on a clear day,
you can see forever,
and ever, and ever more.
When we see with the clarity of God, when we allow ourselves to experience an epiphany moment, we become a part of God’s reality. Our eyes are no longer cloudy with the fantasy of riches or fame or power. Our hearts are not filled with false love. Our minds are not deluded by nonsensical thoughts. Instead we are able to contemplate the world as God intended it to be.
May this epiphany be an opportunity for each of us to see the presence of God around us. May our eyes, ears, minds and hearts be open to God’s reality and not false human machinations or delusions. May the Christ Child who came to earth for all humanity give us the clarity to see the world through the eyes of faith, peace, and justice. And in so doing, may we be a part of bringing about God’s Kingdom here and now.