Just two weeks after the birth of Christ, the coming of the King of Peace, and here we are staring our own worst nature straight in the face. Reveling in wounds we’ve allowed to grow and fester because we’ve been burning bridges with each other and we’ve turned away from the Face that commanded us only to love.
Traditionally Christians all over the world celebrate Ephiphany this week, the day the wise men walked their way to Christ and found Him. The revelation of Christ to the world- of a baby King come to save a fallen world not with might of rule, but through the hard work of self-sacrifice.
But Eastern Christians celebrate this holiday a bit differently. In Eastern Orthodox Christian churches this holiday is Theophany and it’s a Greek word that means “the manifestation of God.” It means God made tangible to the human senses- it means that God in all His great kindness gives us a moment to see Him, to hear Him, to be present with Him just because He knows how much, in all our human frailty, we need a piece of Him to make our very own.
Theophany celebrates the moment of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. Before He began His ministry, before He taught, before He healed- He walked before a crowd of people who were there seeking the very thing He was about to give them and submitted Himself before the Father. Theophany is the celebration of the revelation of God as Three Persons, as Trinity, to the world.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3: 16-17 ESV
A Beloved Son. A pleased Father. The rest of the Holy Spirit. This is our God and He showed Himself to us more intimately than He showed Himself to Moses, more kindly than He showed Himself to Isaiah- and He did it because He had come to rescue us. We who were trapped in the valley of death, in the desolation of hopeless despair- He gave us this image of Himself out of His merciful compassion and love.
This moment reveals more than just the Trinity, it reveals that God exists in relationship. Christ submits to the Father, the Father gives His approval, and the Holy Spirit gives Him rest. God reveals Himself as the parts existing in perfect relationship. A theological concept that we struggle to wrap our minds around, but this moment- of all moments- gives us just a glimpse of Who He really is.
We are in relationship to each other. Love One Another.
Theophany is about a God who is reclaiming and restoring all of creation from what we’ve done to ourselves. A God who is beginning the work of washing it all clean.
Traditionally on Theophany, Orthodox Christians make their way to the coldest body of water they can find. The priest throws a cross in, sometimes after a hole has been made in the ice, and the young and strong dive in chasing after the cross for all they’re worth, cold and all. It makes me wonder, what if we sought Him?
Because when we’re seeking the cross, we’re seeking freedom.
And seeking the cross means learning how to see Christ in the face of our neighbor. It means learning how to look for Him in the icy waters of turmoil and grab for Him with all we’ve got.
We cannot profess to love our God if we cannot bring ourselves to love each other.
We cannot love being right more than we love our neighbor and if we do, we’ve forgotten the simple steps He walked to the Jordan, and then to the cross.
We have a God who let us see Him, let us hear Him, who let us put a hand in His pierced side- a God who’s only ever wanted for us to know Him. And His only commandment is to love. Theophany is the physical manifestation of God- real, tangible, visible- and He asks us to let Him be made manifest in us. Woven into the fabric of our words and deeds so that He is a real and tangible presence to those around us.
He asks us to do the hard and holy work of humility, of laying aside the worst of ourselves so we can see the face of Christ in those who do their worst. To embrace the poor, the lonely, the scared, and the suffering before we embrace the politics of man. To see the reflection of Christ in the face that doesn’t look like our own- to feel the pain of another like we feel our own. Maybe, just maybe, we can begin to remember the image we were created in.
Nothing less than radical love and compassion is what’s needed to heal. Now. Not on January 20. Not when we feel we’ve been heard.