To be blessed unexpectedly, to be startled out of our complacency by God’s grace, is a way for God to remind us that that we are never alone or abandoned—even when we think we are. “Blessed,” though widely used, is a deeply Christian word. It is a spiritual word. It is a biblical word. People may talk about ‘blessings’ in their lives, but a Christian truly knows what it is to be blessed—it is the witness to the presence of God!
So, what does it mean to be blessed? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us we are makarios, “blessed,” which literally means to be happy or blissful. But it also denotes a self-contained happiness. The Greeks called the island of Cyprus ‘the happy isle’. They believed that, because of its geographical location, perfect climate, and fertile soil, anyone who lived on Cyprus had all the essentials for true contentment. And the term they associated with the island was makarios. They believed everything you needed to be happy was right there on the island.
We can’t all move to Cyprus, but the idea is that our happiness is independent of our circumstances. It is self-contained, meaning that regardless of what is happening to us externally, we can be truly happy internally. God’s amazingly identifiable blessings that interrupt our lives and draw us up short, those blessings are to get our attention, like a bright yellow road sign that there is a curve up ahead. The curve is already there, the sign just makes us more attentive. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been promised that every day God’s “road sign” is life itself! In this way every moment of every day is a blessing from God! This is the reason that Jesus both began and concluded his earthly ministry by blessing people.
C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.” That’s how God works. He doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what we need. That’s a huge difference, so our loss may end up being great gain; our request may end up being better. And whatever it is we pray for or blessing we have or lose, God always knows what he’s doing. We can trust him infinitely more than we can trust ourselves.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8
In times when we are “up against it,” when all we have left is hope, what can hope really do?
Epiphany means manifestation, the reality of a thing coming into being. The Magi saw the Star in the heavens as the light of Hope—hope that a new life, a new world was possible. This light led them to the true light that enlightens all things, and the Christ has been shinning into the hearts of people everywhere ever since.
All too often, what we call “hope” is actually desperation, the speaking of a word in a time of fear or confusion that is little more than a place holder. Our “hope” is not founded on love or light, but a product of hard times or selfish ambition. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the funny memes, Facebook posts, even newspaper cartoons bidding a humorous goodbye and “good riddance” to the year 2020, to make room for the hope of a brighter new year. There were even Christmas Cards and printed sentiments circulating to that effect since during these times, when I can’t exactly wish you “JOY!” at the holiday, or merriment or happiness or health or any of life’s blessings so often taken in stride and taken for granted, “Hope” this season came to be what we had left to share and extend to one another. Hope for the vaccine. Hope for a return to health and an end to a year-long and worldwide pandemic. Hope for a peaceful transfer of power. Hope for social harmony. The list goes on and soon includes more personal, detailed, and daily hopes for the relationships and realities of our lives; we yearn and hope for all of it. How much more profound is the manifestation of Christ to our everyday lives when we embrace His light and find His Hope!
As people of Christ, Jesus coming into our hearts plants divine Hope which can be manifested in our lives once we embrace the indwelling Holy Spirit. Independent of fear and lightyears from desperation, Divine Hope propels us beyond doubt to joy and the revelation of God with us.
We celebrated the turn of the calendar to 2021 with many discouraging events in our lives: the pandemic, political confusion, social unrest, economic strife, and our own personal issues. Today, perhaps more than ever, we need to follow the light of Divine Hope that God has given us through Jesus. Certainly, the Hope of a life eternal with God, but also to recognize and follow the light of Divine Hope that shines through the worst of the times we live in. This Divine Hope brightens our days because it brightens our spirits. We can be filled with joy knowing that below the fear and desperation is the true foundation of our lives: God, overflowing with love and compassion and speaking our name.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:11
Ahhh, Epiphany, the season of light. But it seems there is a weariness and darkness pervading this otherwise illumined time of year. Do you feel it? See it? Scripture says we are all children of light, but to be honest, friends, we all may be stumbling a bit these days. Perhaps that’s why, on the shortest darkest day of 2020, the winter solstice last month, we experienced a bona fide cosmic event that manifested in a brilliant and, shall I say, familiar star--a tangible visible sign that our Creator God is at work.
In Genesis 1:3, the very first creative act, before days even existed to number the first day… “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” As a young child hearing this I wondered what it meant. As I grew older, I understood that the verb “Let” used here is fashioned in the ‘royal sense,’ as in “Let us be seated.” Maybe you’ve responded before to the “royal ‘we’” at your house before? Interesting little theological fun fact: in the creation account in Genesis, the “royal sense” does contain the authority necessary to compel everyone to sit; it does not however, convey the absolute authority which demands assent. In other words, the queen may have to speak twice.
In actuality, the Hebrew word for “Let” is yeh; in Latin, fiat Lux, neither of which could be confused with the ‘royal sense’. The literal translation is ‘light exist’ and it is a statement of absolute authority, as the result of speaking it immediately causes light to exist with no second word necessary. This is how we understand the author of the universe “speaking” our world into existence.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus exclaims, “I am the light of the world” (8:12) as a declarative statement not open to debate. His self-identification is a proclamation of absolute authority and a connection to the Creation event itself. Speaking it so makes it so. Perhaps in our current “muted” existence (I mean this term both literally and also metaphorically), when our lives are “on hold,” suspended, upended, waiting, wondering, wandering, that once again our Creator God and our Lord and savior are speaking light into our darkest corners. It’s brand new. And it’s all for you.
Each Epiphany season we are reminded that Christ came to save the world, to shine the “Light of Life” to all people. The Light of God, whether the illumination of the cosmos or the illumination within the soul of every human being, is the light that leads through the darkness of self-doubt and wandering to true peace and love. Campus Minister Aimee Joseph wrote to her University of San Diego students, “We are all created to crave the Creator, our Father, and only through a relationship with our Savior Jesus can the dark parts of our hearts brighten. When I admit I am not enough, I’m freed to run and cling to the God who is.” That nagging sense that I am not enough is a result of the “Light shining in the darkness” of my soul and illuminating the pathway to joy and felicity.
You have received the Light of Life into your heart and soul through the waters of Baptism and continue to grow in the Light through your worship and devotion. Mark this Epiphany 2021 as the moment when you resolve to truly embrace the Light and to shine forth that light for those who cannot as yet see.
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Happy New Year, Creator family, and a blessed Epiphany – Our lives are never going to be the same!
The Greek word "Epiphaneia" means "appearance" or "manifestation," but perhaps a better working definition for us is one penned by an unknown author in a online questionnaire:
[Epiphany is] a realization; an opening; a portal to the Divine; growing up; a magic moment that impacts you and changes you forever and you can remember it as vividly as you experienced it; a moment that changes the lens through which you view your life; our soul scratching around our head and giving us a signal to guide our lives with; a moment of descending light, open knowledge, and choice; a drastic shift in energy and change of perspective that happens in the form of a moment of clarity; something that gives you the strength to take a different direction or move forward and opens up everything; a sense of wonderment; a clarifying direction; and, that moment where you know your life is never going to be the same.
In the church year, the season of "Epiphany" is the joyful celebration of “call,” God’s call to the world by God to come to the Savior and the call of the Wise to take the journey. We celebrate this event on January 6th, but Epiphany lives in every baptized person year-round!
Epiphany is the state of being in which new beginnings are ever possible and God’s light leads us through the darkness. Epiphany is the word that shouts GLORY and MIRACLE in every moment and proclaims LOVE and BLESSING in every heart!
The Holy Spirit continues to open people’s hearts and minds spiritually to perceive, receive, worship, and serve Christ in the world in as many unique ways as there are people. This Epiphany story continues to happen every day in our lives--in our congregations, our communities, and in the lives of people of other races, nations, and languages. Each day, God’s deep compassion breaks upon our world, forgiving sins, and giving light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, guiding us all in the path of peace (Luke 1:77-79).
We are all on a pilgrimage of faith and hope that continually grows our love for God and others through the years. Each day, new people come to the realization that God is God, and Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. People everywhere seek and need mature disciples and vital congregations that can spiritually nurture, guide, and encourage them on their pilgrimage of faith and hope.
Claim Epiphany as God’s gift and call--and actively engage everyone and everything through the Light of Christ! My prayer is that the epiphanic light of God will shine so brightly through our pilgrim lives and our congregation so that new hearts, tender hearts, restless hearts, broken hearts, and searching hearts may attain spiritual insight, see and discern God’s gracious activity in their lives, and find their way into the fulness of Christ’s overwhelming love, mercy, joy, and promises.
May the Light of the Father’s love and the burning presence of the Holy Spirit lead you and guide you to boldly proclaim the Grace and Mercy of Jesus, our Savior and King.
Father Bill Burk†