Today I am attempting to intertwine an Epiphany message with the Baptism of our Lord. Epiphany technically landed on Wed and the Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ baptism for this specific day. I think these two subjects fit well together.
First let’s consider Epiphany. The word means a revelation, an awakening, the recognition of a bigger picture or story. And at this time of year, the traditional text for Epiphany emphasizes the star recognized by the wise men.
There are some who believe that the star (Star of David) was a comet, or maybe two planets that were so close in proximity that they looked like one large bright star. But the words used in Matthew would point toward a divine miracle; that the star specifically remained in one location, remaining above the town of Bethlehem.
I would like to bring up two points. 1) What made the wise men believe that this particular star at this particular time indicated the birth of the Son of God? And 2) Do we believe in the mystery of God that extends beyond human understanding? Or in other words, do we need a rational explanation for everything, which basically lowers God to human standards.
A bright star showed up in the sky. What made the magi (probably astrologers) think that this was the prophetic birth of Jesus? There is nothing in Scripture that would suggest that there was a big bright arrow pointing downward with a heavenly sign saying “Here he is!” What could have caused these men to begin a 2 year journey from the East with gifts for royalty? Yes, prophecy suggested that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but why now? And how was it revealed to them?
We don’t know. Maybe angels showed up to the magi like they did to the shepherds or maybe they had some sort of vision. But whatever the case, they experienced an Epiphany. An ‘AHA’ moment, if you will, that was accurate and beyond human understanding.
And then there is Jesus’ baptism. Considering that John baptized for the forgiveness of sins, why did Jesus ask to be baptized? We claim that as the Son of God, Jesus knew no sin. Why be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. It’s a head scratcher. In one of my seminary papers I suggested a theory. Jesus bore the sins of all humanity when he went to the cross. Maybe by walking into the water of baptism, he took on the sins of all people who were baptized with forgiveness. Maybe. Maybe not. The book of Randy hasn’t been authorized to be included in Scripture.
But whatever the reason, Jesus said that it was necessary for him to be baptized by John. He knew something that the rest of us didn’t. And after he came up from the water, the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus and God’s voice came heaven said “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” It was an Epiphany for Jesus.
Scripture doesn’t say that anyone but Jesus heard the voice or saw the Holy Spirit descending. But Jesus himself saw and heard. Before this moment he may have felt a spiritual tug, or an unexplainable guiding. But in this moment, He had an ‘Aha’ moment. And from there he went to the wilderness for fasting and temptations.
‘Aha’ moments, epiphanies, require preparation before the power of their revelations can sink in. We might see situations and wonder. Things might not make sense. But over time in discernment and contemplation, God reveals his plans. Those are our ‘Aha’ moments.
When we spend our time trying to rationalize everything that happens around us (a normal human reaction), we attempt to explain God and His plans. In doing so, we are basically stating that God is within our box of rationalization. But if we believe that God is beyond our understanding, then there are things that we won’t be able to explain. The real test of faith arrives when instead of trying to explain the unexplainable, we instead go with it and see where God takes us.
Like my examples of the magi and Jesus baptism, my theory or explanation of the unexplainable changes the story. We don’t know how the magi were initiated or why Jesus needed baptism. Prophecy doesn’t become ‘Aha’ moments until the events come to fruition. But we ARE invited into the mystery of God, where we are called to trust His plans, even when different from our own. And in that mystery, we will experience divine ‘Aha’ moments in reflections based on God’s timing. Amen.